A one-woman-play about human trafficking, lasting 75 minutes without interval, sounds intense, intimidating and even discouraging. But if you want real proof regarding the power of theatre, This Is My Body is it.
Josephine is from Romania, brought over to England to sell sex. Leaving behind a loving family and small daughter, she has been bought, sold and exploited by her ‘boyfriend’ Alex. Worst of all, she doesn’t believe it. “I chose this”, she convinces herself, “Alex loves me.”
The play, written by award-winning Martin O’Brien, is set in a safe house where Josephine has 45 days to recover and rehabilitate from her traumatic treatment. A calendar is simulated on the wall between scenes, counting down the days to her release. Having lost her sense of identity, Josephine feels worthless and ashamed.
Josephine introduces us to the character of Sister Bernadette, in charge of the safe house, and vacillating between her captor and saviour. Religion in the face of tragedy, in fact, is an overriding theme throughout. “This is my body, broken for you”, Josephine wails at Jesus, quoting the Bible she is supposed to live by. As the audience assume the position of the Crucifix in her room – watching her, pitying her, judging her – the tussle between faith and scepticism riddles us all. “How can God let the bad things happen?” she asks.
Agata Jarosz, who plays Josephine, is captivating throughout. As she flips from erratic self-harm to a drunken rendition of ‘I Will Survive’, the intensity of her gaze and precision of her movement is a terrifying triumph. In the bravest moment of the production, Josephine rebels against her situation by violently beating and biting herself, slamming her head into a chest of drawers and writhing on the ground in pain. She calms to silence and recovers for what seems like a lifetime as the audience wait, shocked and stunned, for her next line. It is only through self-destruction that a powerless woman finally has the attention she deserves.
the audience wait, shocked and stunned, for her next line
Amongst the heavy and the hard-hitting, however, there is optimism. Faith, in fact, is what ultimately supplies hope. “England, the land of opportunity,” repeats Josephine, as she comes to terms with her release into the real world.
Was This Is My Body difficult to watch? Yes, of course – director Paul Jepson was near tears as he took to the stage after the performance. “We’re stunned into silence,” said one audience member in the subsequent Q&A session. If the play wasn’t thought-provoking and illuminating enough, in the brief talk after the performance we learned the sad reality that 40 per cent of women are re-trafficked in the UK after leaving safe houses. Horrible, also, is the fact that trafficking statistics are on the rise – victims brought to the UK were up by nearly 40 per cent in 2015 compared to the previous year. Without this play, I, as well as many others, would remain ignorant to such tragedies.
While it’s the end of term, and all you might be thinking about is hitting Unit 1, I urge you to see this production. Not only is it more memorable than your night out is bound to be, it’s also important, powerful viewing.
I URGE YOU TO SEE THIS PRODUCTION
This Is My Body runs its final performance tonight at 7:30pm. Student tickets are £8 and can be bought on exeternorthcott.co.uk.
For more information about human trafficking visit antislavery.org.