There's a risk that staging a play about the Rochdale child sex rings could descend into voyeuristic rehashing of real-life horrors. Luckily, Phil Davies has, in his debut play, written a teenager called Tia who is three-dimensional; yes, she’s a victim, but there’s heart and humour here too. And in just-outta-drama-school Callie Cook, he’s found a young actress who can scorch through this harrowing material, while leaving us with just a smidgen of hope that Tia will rise again from the ashes.
Edward Hall’s 75-minute production – transferring from Hampstead Downstairs – has break-neck pace, as Tia leaps from bolshy teen to be being utterly dependent on AJ, the older Asian man who tempts her with gifts and the promise of escape. A scene of blood-spattered confrontation between Tia and AJ makes for gruesomely painful viewing.
That the same actor, Phadlut Sharma, also plays a useless, callous policeman is a brilliantly nasty bit of double-casting, allowing us to see men the way Tia does: they’re all the same, all reneging on their promises to protect her. Subtly revealing Tia’s poverty, Davies also reminds us of the class politics at play in the real-life neglect of troubled white working class girls.
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