Beginning on a minibus from outside the Theatre Royal Stratford East, Roadkill introduces “Mary”, a bubbly, comic, teenage Nigerian who has been scouted and transported by her “Auntie” to be (ostensibly) educated and employed in the United Kingdom. Immersive from the start, Mary invites you into her world, where her enthusiasm, energy, and joyful expectations about all things London is infectious, warming and sincere. So far so good.
Our arrival at the site-specific set on a nondescript, quiet street in East London, however, reveals the horrors that await Mary. Boldly conceived and directed by Cora Bissett, and based on the true events of a girl trafficked to Scotland from Africa, Roadkill shows Mary’s demise from strength, optimism and naivety to weeping helplessness and dispiritedness, as man after man visits her bedroom, pays his money and expects her service. "I have been touched everywhere", she whispers, numbly, "everywhere. Everything hurts".
The performances in this three-hander are exceptional. Adura Onashile as Martha/Auntie is three-dimensional and raw, hinting at the struggle and compassion underneath her seeming brutality. John Kazek has the tough job of playing various characters, some of whom you want to pummel, others you silently pray would do more to help Mary, but altogether portrays individuals that are horribly real. Mercy Ojelade as Mary, however, is a revelation, a real rising star whose performance is not to be missed.
Roadkill ultimately concerns Mary’s struggle to find the strength to escape her captors and forge her way through the cold London streets for aid. But whilst Mary’s tale perhaps provides a more uplifting ending, there are many identical cases of bright, lovable young sparks who are unknown to the British public, lost to their families; stories that are not heard, but drowned out by the silence that engulfs them.
To stop sex trafficking, we must take away the demand for cheap sex; but since the sex industry is insatiable, rife within our own communities, the way to save some of these innocents is to react - shout, scream, work tirelessly to raise awareness in the hope that listeners may, with wide-eyed trepidation, be motivated to act. Grittingly real, this is what Roadkill sets out to achieve, and, thankfully, through a combination of realism and shock-factor, is special enough to succeed.
Roadkill, which had sell-out runs at the past two Edinburgh Fringe Festivals, is not for the faint-hearted. It’s uncomfortable, vivid, nauseating and induces fist-clenching anger. But it’s also brilliant, sobering, frank, very moving, and, unfortunately, a real snippet of British society that lurks in the shadows, pervades our communities, and threatens to destroy more lives if further avenues of awareness like Roadkill are not created.