by Phil Davies.
Trafalgar Studio 2 to 19 March
14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY to 19 March 2016.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm. Mat Thur & Sat 3pm.
Runs 1hr 15mins No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 871 765.
Review: William Russell 24 February.
A truly powerful play for today, theatre at its best.
Phil Davies’ first full length play is the latest to work transfer to Trafalgar Studio 2 from Downstairs, the Hampstead Theatre’s studio theatre where new works are tried out. Good though its two predecessors were Firebird is in a class of its own.
The night I saw it the play had just that extra edge of relevance given what happened in Rotherham earlier in the day when six Asian men were found guilty of child abuse. Hard to watch, grim in the telling this is theatre at its best.
Edward Hall’s coruscating production sets the action in the round so that as you watch what is happening to the girl abused you can also see how the people opposite are reacting. It creates an atmosphere of horror shared without taking away from the impact of the events happening in what is a kind of cockpit.
Tia, a brilliant professional debut by Callie Cooke, a 14 year old who detests her foster mother, is a wild, but actually harmless, child. The sort of bolshie teenager everyone sees as a nuisance, someone who deserves what she gets. One evening in a café – she is broke – a personably young Asian, A J, played by Phadlut Sharma, comes to her rescue. He buys her chips, chats her up, gives her cigarettes, offers her a ride home in his smart car and Tia accepts. The consequences are disastrous.
Davies, angry with every justification, shows what happens to her and how the police react when eventually she is interviewed. It makes uncomfortable watching and appears to be all too close to reality as it shows how vulnerable children can be groomed and how difficult it is for them to escape the clutches of their abusers.
It is a story about a girl not being believed, about a friendship almost betrayed, about men who simply do not care about the girls they abuse – not all of the men who abuse Tia are Asian – and about a society which does not believe the girls, seeing them as out of control sluts. It is also about a society which retreats from condemning abusers because they have, on the face of it, respectability, status and often come from ethnic backgrounds which prevent action being taken. Callie Cooke is magnificent as Tia and gets excellent support from Tahirah Sharif as her prickly new friend who is also at risk.
Phadlut Sharma does a splendid double act as the abuser AJ and Simon the bored policeman more interested in getting home as his shift is about to end than in what Callie finds it so difficult to say.
Callie Cooke: Tia.
Katie: Tahirah Sharif.
A J/Simon: Phadlut Sharma.
Director: Edward Hall.
Designer: Polly Sullivan.
Lighting Designer: Tom Nickson.
Sound Designer: John Leonard.