This is a short piece in which two nine-year-old girls – played by older actors with charm and vulnerability – give their view of what is happening to them: their selection at home and journey from Nigeria to the UK, the man who has charge of them, the men they must sit ‘close’ to and the ‘dream pill’ that they are usually given before night – so that they may not immediately be fully aware of their position as sex slaves.
There is a spare quality to the piece that suits it well. A bare stage, a couple of thin mats and items the girls treasure, all under basic lighting, show the sparseness of their surroundings, while stained clothing, sounds of movement offstage, a glitzy dress, overly-large high-heeled shoes and quick make-up add the even harsher notes of their reality.
It may be that the show deliberately avoids playing on people’s feelings, despite emotive subject matter, but there is a surprising lack of emotional poignancy, probably due to the volume of much of the speech, which – while possibly realistic for young girls – is too high for much of the play and somewhat batters the audience. Also, not everything said was clear due to speed and certain characterisation choices that involved thickened accents.
What Clean Break does deliver in this production is a direct, personal account which suddenly stings with a description by one of the children that is fresh, incredibly insightful and explains so much more than its simple phrasing might suggest – and that may just leave its mark on one’s psyche. The children’s perceptions on demons, sadness and dreams vs. reality are particularly apt and haunting.
This Dream Pill is one of bitterness but makes the most of a horrific situation with a fair few flashes of humour and leaves questions about ignorance as a balm for pain beyond bearing.
By Danielle Farrow
4 – 28 August, 16:05 (16:35) @ Underbelly, Cowgate
Please note – this production is listed as being suitable for age 14+