In the hard-hitting production of Innocent Flesh, Paul Xuereb is given a glimpse of the heartbreaking life of four girls caught in the sex-trafficking underworld.
The American Kenyetta Lethridge’s Innocent Flesh is a one-act play aimed at exposing the evils of sex trafficking involving young girls in their early teens.
In a studio environment, the audience gets to know four girls, all led by callous seducers and by their own childish ambition for good money, and what they believe will be a comfortable life, to embark on a career of prostitution.
The roughly 60-minute-long script closes with all four girls declaring despondently that the life they have been leading may have brought them money but certainly none of that love for which they so dearly long since they are all at the beck and call of their pimp, for whom they are merchandise to be exploited as fully as possible
Marc Cabourdin, who directs, says very honestly in his programme note: “We are not here to justify, judge or comment on the truth. We are simply exposing it.”
This, of course, provides the author and the director with a very good excuse for letting the audience watch, for most of the time, four provocatively dressed girls.
Shortly after their introduction as little girls playing children’s games and singing children’s rhymes, they suddenly appear as sexually experienced people who talk frankly about their introduction to sex by adults.
They then move on to professional sex and have clearly cast away any sense they may have had of modesty. Their recruitment has differed from one to another: one, for instance, was followed by an adult man after school and seemingly introduced to full, sexual penetration without many doubts or fears on her part. Another clearly suffered much more when her own mother made her submit to the sexual acts of a male client.
The parts are played by Simone Alamango, Sarah Jane Mallia, Tina Rizzo and Nadia Vella, all of whom must have solved their psychological problems about playing young prostitutes long before their performances.
In Cabourdin they have found a director capable of making them portray experienced and also confident prostitutes without having the callous indifference they would have had if they had been in the game much longer.
These actresses also play, from time to time, the odd parent and a few of the men they must meet most days; this makes the sex scenes much more acceptable.
One of the few comic scenes was that between one of the girls and a policeman who comes to have sex with her once a week. The constable is a little on his guard but clearly insists on his privilege, while the girl is mildly amused. To play a male part, none of the four attempts to change costume or even to put on a voice. Clearly, we are meant to see the men as part of the women’s consciousness.
Lethbridge meant one of the parts to be played by a black actress. This production, instead, has very sensibly made one of them, Alamango, speak many lines in Maltese or in English with a broad Maltese accent. This makes us see her as coming from a different social stratum than the others, all of whom speak a better brand of English – obscenities and all. We also learn that one of them, played elegantly by Rizzo, is the daughter of a law professional. This, of course, helps to set the action not just anywhere but in the Malta where we live.
Every scene melts into the next or seamlessly complements a scene accompanying it
Mallia is the only one of the four who has anything like a little girl’s face. Like the others, she has no inhibitions about the language she uses or the experiences she describes. But it is she, I think, who describes the terrible scene in which the mother makes the daughter submit to a male stranger’s sex – and it is certainly she who rouses some of our pity, as she presses her old teddy bear to her breast in the later scenes.
Vella is a dominant figure and is regarded as a formidable creature by the others. Like the others, she holds the stage with every line and every action. I hope we shall see more of all four of them.
Every scene melts into the next or seamlessly complements a scene accompanying it. It is not a long play but it is packed with characters and incidents, and when the dying fall of the closing scene arrives, the audience rises and leaves with kind thoughts of the four strange lives, into which it has been given a few sobering glimpses.
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