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Emma Thompson presents: Fair Trade
Published on Monday, 23 August 2010

3.5 stars

Pleasance Dome (venue website)
Until 30 Aug (not 23), 3:30pm (4:30pm)
Reviewed by Susannah Radford

Retelling true life stories is a responsibility; you want to honour those that lived the stories with respect.  Fair Trade certainly honours the two women whose stories it shares, but my lasting impression is that the message ended up being more important than the narrative.

Elena (Anna Holbek) and Samai (Sarah Amankwah), from Albania and Darfur respectively, have been brought to the UK with the promise of a better life by people they trust to be their friends.  Samai is particularly vulnerable, having lost her family, friends and home through the conflicts in her homeland. Arriving with no-one else to depend on, they are thrust into unimaginable lives of prostitution; with no way out, the cycle is stopped only when the police intervene.

In one sense being an activism play, Fair Trade raises awareness rather than engages.  While I felt empathy for these women, from a theatrical perspective I didn’t connect with their stories.  The fourth wall is broken as the two main characters speak directly to the audience, but this imparts information rather than dramatises it.  The fairy godmother scene could have worked well had the idea been reintroduced again later, but as a stand-alone scene it didn’t add anything. 

The irony drips in the silhouetted sex show advertisement, playing with the images seen outside strip joints.  But the narrative works best when a stag-night brothel visit links a separate storyline to Elena’s.

The ensemble worked well together.  Amankwah’s Samai was particularly good, personifying wide-eyed fear and disbelief throughout; recent events had rendered her so fragile she sounded like she would break down at any moment.

The final image was very effective, highlighting that sex trafficking is a growing problem in this country - one that needs action as well as raised awareness.  But if my heart had been engaged, the impact of this message would be stronger still.

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These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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