In a Thousand Pieces comes to Soho

Here’s some good news: In A Thousand Pieces is coming to the Soho Theatre. I saw it last year at CPT, and it’s now returned to London a triumphant year later, laden with awards including a Fringe First and Fringe Review Award at last year’s Edinburgh Festival, The Stage’s ‘Best Ensemble’, Total Theatre’s ‘Best Young Company’ and Amnesty Internationals ‘Freedom of Expression’ Award 2008. Here’s my CPT review from last year; you can book tickets for the Soho production here.

As the media’s news cycle becomes ever faster, ever tighter, its searing spotlight blinking bright for just a moment before it turns away, already bored, so too does our ability to care. It’s not comfortable to admit it, but it’s the natural result of too much information, poorly processed, caught in time. For a week or so we are all experts, the names of cyclones, Burmese generals or Zimbabwean politicians tripping off our tongues; then the caravan of news rolls on. And just as the news moves faster, so does the speed at which today’s shock headline is tomorrow’s drama — and at which novelty becomes familiar. Boat people, cockle pickers, paedophiles all too easily become dramatic shorthand, a spice to add to the familiar recipes of TV drama, crime novels and soaps. All the more reason, therefore, to applaud The Paper Birds for their new show In A Thousand Pieces, which takes a fresh look at sex trafficking, one of the most simplistically exploited themes of recent years.

The devising of the show began with time in Poland, as well as deep research with charities in the UK, and could easily have become didactic, telling us what we choose not to know. But while the research is certainly there, it does exactly what it should do: gives the show conviction, clarity and purpose, rather than the grim recital of fact. Because, despite the darkness of its subject matter, the show itself is exhilarating, both physically and intellectually. There’s some wonderful theatrical craft: two suitcases banged together become electric airport doors; an outstretched arm and a Glade fir tree is all it takes to conjure up a taxi; a simple jar of buttons becomes a bitter litany of rape.

It’s thrilling intellectually as well, as the cast deconstruct their own experience of devising it, discuss the dangers of cliche, and confront a problematic issue: can attractive young women play sexual victims without in some way exploiting themselves? There’s also a brilliantly funny section in which they mime to recordings of street interviews, highlighting the easy prejudice of Daily Mail readers — and then slyly undermine some equally simplistic liberal judgments: no-one here gets off the hook. In A Thousand Pieces is exactly the kind of theatre we need: simple resources, superlative craft and challenging ideas, beautifully brought together, fresh from yesterday’s front page.

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