Unprotected (5 stars)

  • List.co.uk
  • 11 August 2006

This article is from 2006.

This enormously moving piece of verbatim theatre cries out in defence of Liverpool’s prostitutes; women of all ages, naïve young teens to world weary elderly mothers, who have been abandoned by society and left to a miserable life of drug addiction, sexual abuse, violence and murder. Culled from interviews conducted by the show’s four writers (Esther Wilson, John Fay, Tony Green and Lizzie Nunnery), the dialogue comprises the statements of prostitutes, punters, police officers, outreach workers, city councillors, politicians and, most gut-wrenching of all, the distraught mothers of Hanane Parry and Pauline Stephen, two young prostitutes who were brutally murdered, dismembered, stuffed into bin bags and dumped on waste ground a few years ago (the play is dedicated to them and to Anne Marie Foy, who was also brutally murdered, just last September).

Directed by Nina Raine (recently the talk of London town with Rabbit), the variously shocking and heart-wrenching but always candid testimonies are skilfully woven together into a coherent and compellingly dramatic whole. All points of view are included, combining to present an informed picture of the very specific plight of Liverpool’s prostitutes. They coalesce around a young street walker named Ali (played by the excellent Leanne Best - though the rest of the six-strong cast are also utterly convincing), who recounts (this really happened, remember) how she was kidnapped, repeatedly raped and tortured for 12 hours and then told by the authorities upon escaping (by throwing herself naked out of a three storey building) ‘well what did she expect being a prostitute?’ Unprotected closes with the horrific stories of Parry and Stephen, and features audio recordings and visual images that choke out tears.

All of this is, of course, extremely disturbing to watch. And that’s as it should be. Liverpool council’s proposed protected zones for prostitutes to work in was vetoed by the government, worried no doubt about losing votes over such a thorny issue, instead imposed an unworkable - and moreover dangerous for the women - zero tolerance to prostitution policy. With politics failing, it’s left to the arts to try to galvanise some action.

Traverse, 228 1404, until 20 Aug, times vary, £10-£15 (£4.50).

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