In a production of Shakepeare that gets the delivery right, the language itself is magical, fantasmagorical. As a member of the audience you can just sit and let the flow of words reach deep inside, to tug at the core of your being.
That’s what you expect when you go to see a production by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and that’s what you get with Trade, one of the plays of its “New Work” season, which has just arrived at the Soho Theatre in London. It is just that the topic — female sex tourism — might be not quite what you are expecting.
This is the dialogue of a rap song, turned to blank verse. The characters pick up each others’ words and bounce them off each other in a rapid-fire song that is music without tune. The writer, Debbie Tucker Green, will definitely be someone to watch.
The scene is a stretch of perfect white sand — just like the brochures — and it opens with three bored women — the kind of “massage, hair-breading, jewelry-sellers” you’ve seen on beaches from Vietnam to The Gambia. Jets roar overhead, money jingles, but none of it is going to them.
But then, it seems, they’ve decided to entertain themselves by acting out roles to describe their reality. Tanya Moodie does a particularly fine job as “The Regular”, the diffident, nervous woman who’s been coming to this never-defined spot for years, having formed a “romance”, she calls it, with a local man, who treats her like the men at home never will. That means “he done his job right”, retorts “The Local”, Lorna Brown.
“The Novice”, Nadine Marshall, is a character familiar from a dozen cheap Sky “reality TV shows”. Indeed she refers to that, saying she’s not some slag spending her whole holiday “vomitting up yourself – any more”. She’s picked up the message of Nineties girl power, but refuses to admit that it bears, outside this enchanted holiday isle, little resemblence to the realities of her life.
The play only lasts for 40 minutes, which is about right, given its intensity, but a great deal about the three women, and one man, emerges.
As you’d expect from the RSC, the acting is strong and consistent, and the delivery of those staccato, rhythmic words well designed. My only real complaint was with the set, and the way that the “beach” slowly rotates; while this is probably supposed to have deep significance, all it induced in me was an unfortunate feeling of queasiness. But the pleasant, seductive spin of the language will be staying with me for a long time.
The production continues until March 24. Links: the RSC description; the Soho Theatre (with online booking). Another review: Steve Newman on The Boards.