When I went into this show I was feeling quite elated. It was the fourth day of the final Test and Australia had lost five wickets of their second innings chasing a score of 705. Anybody reading this who knows what I’m talking about can understand my giddiness. I left an hour later feeling thoroughly miserable. This is not because this was one of those shows that is so wretched that you feel the need to throw yourself from the nearest bridge wailing “all hope is lost”. Quite the opposite, in fact. In A Thousand Pieces is purely and simply theatre of the highest calibre. It aims to be sensationalist and it certainly is but at the same time it is undoubtedly brilliant. The story is that of the illegal sex trade in the United Kingdom and it is extremely demoralizing, though I feel that that particular adjective does not do justice. We are introduced to naive young girls, many not even old enough to drink, brandishing passports and chattering excitedly of a new, better life in this country. Their voices brim with hope and optimism as they paint a romantic picture of Britain: a land of independence, cheerfulness, politeness, education, work, friendship, protection and safety. It’s idyllic and bucolic. It’s wrong. Reality begins to sink in as soon as they arrive and a scene in which a new arrival sits on a train, alone, reading a phrase book to learn how to ask the way to the toilets comes complete with a tangible sense of loneliness. Soon the rosy optimism is replaced with gritty actuality in which protection and safety have vanished and have been replaced by violence, physical abuse and rape. A particularly disturbing scene in which the three actresses, all of whom can legitimately call themselves actresses, simulate rape is accompanied by a taped voice that screams in unimaginable pain and abject humiliation. It’s chilling, and their body language afterwards is a wonder to behold. For a moment you do believe that these women have just been brutally violated right before your eyes. We are also provided with some figures which are, to put it mildly, sickening. A girl can be bought for as little as £1500 as soon as she sets foot on terra firma and is then shuttled around the country to satisfy the needs of legions of men. In a six month period, we are told, this girl can be raped 1500 times – that’s £1 a rape and is the price of an ice cream – the same ice cream that one of the girls is compelled to lick off the floor simply to feed herself. Nausea: this is the effect of the show. If you’re looking for cuddly, life-affirming theatre stay well away from In A Thousand Pieces. If, on the other hand, you’re ready to confront one of the United Kingdom’s seedier, more depraved areas of life buy a ticket. Now. Please do, and don’t be one of the members of the public whose voices resound around the theatre betraying a startling ignorance and indifference to the plight of sex slaves. Taped conversations with passers-by reveal that national stereotypes of western European countries are reeled off with consummate ease. People chuckle to themselves as they describe the French as amorous garlic aficionados and the Germans as clad entirely in lederhosen, yet when the questioning turns to the former Eastern Bloc nations the respondents are silent. The silence is deafening. Nobody knew a thing about Romania and only a handful of people could even name Poland’s capital. Nobody knows about these girls, and nobody cares. One woman interviewed even presented the jaw-dropping view that this was a chosen vocation. This truly enhances the performance and again reveals that sense of loneliness and helplessness. The performers, meanwhile, work very well with the space and their imaginative use of their meagre props is inspired. Their performances themselves are excellent and their portrayals of girls on the fringes of society being ignored by those on the inside and used by those on the outside are breathtaking. I simply cannot vocalise how good this show is. Go and see it for yourself.

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

The Blurb

2008 Fringe First-winning show returns from international sell-out tour. Visual, physical, verbatim theatre exploring eastern European girls forced into British sex trade. Shortlisted - Total Theatre;Amnesty International; Stage Awards. 'Wonderful! A must see' (Stage).

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