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Laura Lomas’ Bird delicately unpicks the provocative issue of child sexual exploitation. In form, it slightly echoes Philip Ridley’s Dark Vanilla Jungle, but it would be a mistake to see this as a paler version of that blistering show. It is gentler perhaps, but just as potent.

Amaka Okafor’s wide-eyed Leah Bird sits on an array of artfully discarded and skin-crawlingly stained mattresses. She’s wearing a musty woollen jumper and a pale lace dress, and her mascara is smudged but she’s defiant; she’s waiting for her man. Jo Scotcher’s wonderful design walks a fine line between realism and abstraction, with huge net curtains to one side making Leah seem very small. She’s 14, but speaks about her boyfriend and how he makes her feel like a mature woman.

Leah’s story begins to unravel as she tells us of her dreamy and then nightmarish memories. Okafor is at once fragile, confident, hopeful and tragically sad. Director Jane Fallowfield colours Lomas’ beautifully crafted monologue with rich theatrical texture, while sophisticated and powerful lighting and sound work is provided by Prema Mehta and Becky Smith, respectively.

This is a nimble production that treats a horrifying subject lightly. But it also isn’t afraid to pull punches, with Okafor’s compelling performance keeping us emotionally gripped.

Verdict: A compelling examination of child exploitation in a sophisticated production that gives a victim’s voice the wings to fly

Honour Bayes

  • Hackney Downs Studio
  • October 14-18, PN October 15, then touring to November 18
  • Author: Laura Lomas
  • Director: Jane Fallowfield
  • Design: Joanna Scotcher set, Prema Mehta lighting, Becky Smith sound
  • Technical: Hannah Blamire stage manager
  • Producer: Root Theatre and Ros Terry for Echo
  • Cast: Amaka Okafor
  • Running time: 50mins

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A compelling examination of child exploitation in a sophisticated production that gives a victim's voice the wings to fly

Honour Bayes is a freelance arts journalist who has written extensively for The Stage and had work published in the Guardian, Independent, Time Out, Exeunt Magazine and The Church Times. She is currently Associate Editor on Chinese arts magazine ArtZip and has worked as web editor for the Royal College of Art, managing its arts and design coverage.