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THEATRE Slave/ The Unity, Liverpool.

Byline: Emma Pinch

MORE people today are held in slavery than at the height of the Victorian slave trade. It''s a statistic with quite an emotive punch, and to craft a drama that doesn''t suffocate under well-meant political pontification requires something rather special.

Fortunately for the audience, Slave: A Question of Freedom has that something special, largely thanks to the true story of the "slave" at its centre, Sudanese Mende Nazer. Aged 12, Mende was ripped from her family in the Nuba mountains by Arab raiders, raped and brutalised and sold to work in the home of a wealthy Khartoum family, unpaid, beaten and forced to live on scraps from her captors'' table.

A good chunk of Caroline Clegg and Kevin Fegan''s 140-minute stage adaptation of Mende''s book is spent illustrating her idyllic childhood. Circumcision, bride prices and arranged marriage are features, yes, but Nuba life, Mende recalls, while struggling to switch on the gas fire in her chilly London flat at the opening of the play, is fundamentally "a warm fire around which stories are told". Nobody eats or sleeps alone and knowledge is passed on not in black and white, but in colourful, vibrant tales.

The play is arranged on and round a small circular dais, but imaginative staging and deft choreography effectively overcomes space limitations to convey great movement, from mountains to city to new continents. It jolts you when you realise the girl in the headscarf and long cardigan in London could be one of thousands of people in the capital - as could her smiling, well-spoken captors.

IPA graduate Ebony Adjuah Feare is utterly convincing as Mendel and Dawn Hope lives up to her fabulous name, always convincingly motherly.

Colette Tchantcho is spellbinding as Nanu, the replacement Mende, especially when unsparingly describing her own capture.

The play does leak some of its dramatic power as the story moves to Mende''s fight for political asylum and narrative is substituted for action, but the powerful end result is one that shocks, grips and ultimately gladdens you.

Emma Pinch
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Oct 6, 2011
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