Tonight was the last of three performances of “Diablo”, a play on human trafficking written by Northern Irish playwright Patricia Downey and performed by local actors in Spanner in the Works Theatre Company.
Downey was taken by surprise when she first heard of human trafficking: as she researched for a different project, she came across a story of a property housing drugs…and slaves. Not content to simply skim the surface of this story of slavery, Downey then embarked upon a journey of research into the dark world of human trafficking in Northern Ireland.
The play is comprised of her findings. Stories of forced labour, sexual exploitation, baby trafficking and organ harvesting all feature in the hard-hitting, hour-long production.
Rape, drug addiction, verbal abuse, physical violence, poverty, threat, deceit, loss – these themes run throughout the play. The set is simple and the actors convincing: the audience at each performance was captivated by the striking depiction of the reality lived by slaves in Northern Ireland.
I found it interesting to watch from the back the reactions of those in attendance: once the initial discomfort causing squirms and neighbourly glances had subsided, a deeper discomfort caused people to lean forward, transfixed on what was happening, not interacting with one another, jumping and shifting. Conversations afterwards varied, but seemed to be one of two extremes: either focused intensely on specific issues raised in the play, or broaching completely trivial topics. The ‘processing’ of such a raw depiction of reality is hard. And it’s difficult because of precisely that: it is reality. The fact that we can’t complain that it is over-dramatised or exaggerated is difficult.
The Diablo cast will join together for one more event as part of No More Traffik week tomorrow, when they act in a simulation experience in a rented property in Belfast. The audience is, this time, invited into the house in which four people, from Northern Ireland and Eastern Europe, are enslaved by Spanish trafficker Diablo for the purposes of various forms of exploitation. The characters will unfold their stories in a personal space, promising a challenging and disturbing experience delving into a life of slavery that will make the members of the small audience feel as though it is their own.
That is, in one sense, where it will end, though: it isn’t the audience’s own experience. We are not slaves. But we know, now.
“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”