Advertisement

Royal Court playwright Cordelia Lynn and actor David Mumeni talk sex trafficking in new play Lela & Co.

18 September 2015 | Natasha Sutton-Williams

The story of a young girl trapped in an increasingly tiny world is encapsulated in the taut new play Lela and Co. Unusually, the whole creative team for this piece are new to the Royal Court. London Calling sat down with budding playwright Cordelia Lynn and actor David Mumeni to discuss this heart-breaking, violent and timely play on sex trafficking.

London Calling: What was the impetus for tackling the difficult issue of sex trafficking in this play?

David Mumeni: I think our attitude to prostitution in this country is insane. You hear stories like, ‘I wouldn’t go see a prostitute here but if I was in Amsterdam I would. It’s different somehow.’ People have strange justifications on why prostitution is okay. There is a difference between a sex trafficked person and someone prostituting themselves consensually but at some level what has happened to these women to get them there? There’s always a story. Sex trafficking is slavery, but because it’s got that element of sex to it there’s a perception that somehow these girls want it. They get no money, they are locked in a room and things happen to them. I think trafficking isn’t getting addressed because we’re not seeing it as slavery. It feels like there is a general allowance for it because of the terminology of the word trafficking as opposed to slavery.

Cordelia Lynn: I had researched sex trafficking and various conflicts in the past one hundred years that have had devastating effects on the way people live their lives. These things were connected. I wanted to tell it like that, tell a story about a woman not being able to tell her story. Lela is trying very hard to tell this story because she needs to let people know what happened to her. There’s an awful thing that happens formally in the play where a figure keeps trying to stop her from speaking.

LC: Where did the idea for this play originate?

CL: The theatre company 1989 Productions gave me a real life story as the seed but my idea ended up quite different, which was important because when you’re dealing with complex subject matter, there can be something almost voyeuristic about the need to know about what’s happened to other people. I had the initial story as a basis, did research and was reading Ismail Kadare who writes about conflict. I put all this stuff together and came out with my own version, which meant I had ownership. I would have felt ethically uncomfortable about using a real life story. It needed to be an imaginary piece of fiction.

LC: Did you make a conscious decision not to talk to anyone personally affected by sex trafficking?

CL: Yes, because it comes back to the nature of voyeurism and fiction, and to what extent am I going to limit what I can do by building upon this need to tell the ‘truth’? I almost don’t think there are truths. It would have interfered with the way I told this story. I don’t think it would have been as honest a piece of writing. Imagination, fiction and fantasy are important to me. I have respect for verbatim theatre but that’s not personally how I write. It does come down to what’s happening in the world around me? What am I reading? What am I listening to? What’s inspiring me? And then how does all that go into my head and make a play?

LC: This piece is deliberately set in a non-specific time and place. What was your reasoning behind this?

CL: It was a political choice. The problems and feelings the play explores are universal issues. Human trafficking happens all over the world. Particularly in the West, it can be very easy to point the finger at other countries and say, ‘that’s a cultural thing for them’ or ‘that’s in the nature of their most recent history’. I felt that would be wrong to portray in my play. Whoever puts on this play can make determined decisions on whether it’s set in Ireland, Iraq or anywhere in the world, but it can also be set nowhere, and that’s important. I wanted it to be a subtle, beautiful statement rather than pushing the idea down people’s throats.

LC: David, you play all five male roles in this piece. How do you empathise with these horrific characters you’re depicting?

DM: At the start of rehearsals every time I said a line I thought the characters were lying. I’ve played antagonists before and the first thing you ask is, ‘why are they doing this? How can I justify this?’ I have to find their point of view. They might be hard done by or they might have been brought up that way. These characters are poor, they are driven to such depths, they think the world is dog eat dog, how do they survive in this world? Do they want to be on the street or can they find a way to make a living? If that means other people will suffer, that’s the way the world is to them. I had to find that mentality.

Lela & Co. is on at the Royal Court Theatre till 3rd October. For more information and tickets, please click here.
 

Advertisement

Most popular

What to See at The Cinema
What to See at The Cinema
Advertisement
Top Theatre of the Week in London
Top Theatre of the Week in London
Advertisement
Top Exhibitions of the Week in London
Top Exhibitions of the Week in London
Advertisement
A Guide to the Best Lidos in London
A Guide to the Best Lidos in London
Top 5 Vegan Sausage Rolls in London
Top 5 Vegan Sausage Rolls in London
Top Gigs of the Week in London
Top Gigs of the Week in London

Your inbox deserves a little culture! Get our monthly newsletter

Advertisement