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Sex trafficking: in a street near you?

GRIPPING: Mercy Ojelade stars in Roadkill

A LITTLE flat on a quiet, unassuming road in east London hides a terrible secret: the imprisonment and trafficking of human beings for sex.

It may sound like the slogan for a Hollywood movie, but slavery still exists and it is closer than you think. There are more people in slavery now then at any other time in recorded history. It is estimated that at least 27 million people around the world are in some form of slavery or bonded labour.

Roadkill, a provoking new production examining this very issue, is currently being performed at London’s Theatre Royal Stratford East. Exposing the terrifying reality behind the exploitation, the play drags the audience deep into the life of a trapped sex worker.

A truly unique experience, the drama takes audience members from the theatre to a secret location that may seem like an alternate reality.

Heading the cast is actress Mercy Ojelade, who shared her thoughts on the astonishing continuation of slavery and people’s willingness to ignore it.

“I think people do know about modern day slavery but they just call it something very different, and therefore they don’t acknowledge it in the same way,” Ojelade says. “There is real strength to the piece, making it is difficult to ignore.”

Participating in this play has opened the eyes of the London born actress, who, like many of us, knew there was a problem somewhere in the world, but never really paid much attention, until now.

“It [sex trafficking] was something I was aware of beforehand and doing early research, I learnt more. The thing that has shocked me is the fact that it takes place effectively in a flat; it all happens amid the normalcy of life.

“To me, the biggest shock was knowing that people see this on a daily basis. It could be happening in the house next door, but people don’t say anything. Whether it’s the breakdown of community or fear, I’m not sure, but people don’t speak about it. That worries me.”

Some of Ojelade’s fears were abated when one of the rehearsals was interrupted by a concerned member of the public.

“We were rehearsing and we had a neighbour knock on the door and ask if everything was alright. That reassured me that some people do feel comfortable stepping in. But my fear is that it happens so frequently up and down the country and we don’t always take a stand.”

Roadkill breaks boundaries, delving into a very difficult subject and using an unconventional set. Stealing the audience away on a bus to a secret location to watch the action is a very daring thing to do. But Ojelade says it is essential to the heart of the play.

“Whether the journey from the theatre is an hour, two hours or ten minutes, it takes us out of the theatrical sphere. The fourth wall disappears and you are taken to somewhere you don’t know. The area may or may not resemble a place that is familiar to you, but the fact that it could be taking place on your road or around the corner, only a bus ride away, brings the reality of the situation all home.”

Winning a best actress stage award at the Edinburgh International Festival for her role in Roadkill when it was performed in Scotland last year, Ojelade explained that she had no difficulties portraying the very intense emotion required to make it a captivating piece of drama.

“With any role, the intention is to make sure you are playing it for real and you’re playing the truth of the situation accordingly. I can’t call it difficult because it is very real; I just have to be in the mindset.”

In order to end the atrocious crime that is inflicted on millions of women and girls each year, Ojelade feels we all have to take responsibility.

“I would like people to do whatever is in their remit to be proactive in preventing the continuation of sex trafficking, especially when it is so near to many people. Whether that is campaigning, finding out more information, generating discussions or just recognising something untoward and flagging it up.”

Roadkill continues at Theatre Royal Stratford East, London E15 until November 20. For more information, visit www.stratfordeast.com

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