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Nicola Mostyn on a play which highlights the hidden trade in human life

Published on April 17th 2008.


“I wanted to write a play that matters, that has something to say,” says Director Jon Gunnar of the production of Lilya which begins its run at Contact tonight.

The play is based on the award-winning film Lilya 4-Ever by Swedish director Lukas Moodysson, and, like the hard-hitting film, it delves into the cruel world of sex trafficking.

Icelandic born Gunnar is the director of theatre company Silfurtunglid; previous projects include an opera and another drama based on a Moodysson film, Together.

He met actor Nick Mason, from Manchester theatre company Fink On, whilst at the Drama Centre in London. Now Silfurtunglid and Fink On have teamed up to present the play Gunnar has been wanting to tell since first watching Lilya 4-Ever.

Beginning in the old Soviet Union, Lilya tells of a 16-year-old girl who has been abandoned by her mother. She and a young boy, Volodja, are struggling to survive and dreaming of a better life when Andrei comes along with promises of a glamorous new start in Manchester. But the opportunity of a better future turns sour as Lilya finds herself at the hands of the city’s sex traffickers.

In the film Lilya’s ‘new life’ was in Sweden, but for this production the location has been changed to the familiar streets of Manchester, a change designed to show that this could be happening anywhere, hinting at the insidiousness of this modern-day-slave trade which people know exists but never see.“People are aware of it, but it is hidden,” says Mason. “And it is an issue which needs to be raised”

Like Fink On’s previous plays; Strangeways, which told of the prison riots and Fair, which dealt with issues of racism and community, Lilya aims to present an intelligent exploration of the issues involved in the sex-trade, looking at the victims of trafficking but also at the motivations of those who trade young girls.

“Everyone is a real person” says Mason, “even the people that sell them. It’s all part of supply and demand. Humans are sold because there is a demand for it. It’s market forces. Any society can break down.”

Whilst the play deals with the underbelly of the city and the callous commercial brutality and corruption which ruins young lives, it also explores the optimism of the two young characters, Lilya and Volodja. “They still believe in a better life” says Lauren Drummon, who plays Lilya, better known as Mika Grainger in Waterloo Road. “All she wants is a normal childhood”There are also light, touching moments between Lilya and the younger boy.“It is,” she says, “a quirky love story.”

It is the contrast between this youthfulness and the terrible life the pair find themselves living which promises to make for a compelling piece of drama. It is also a play which the director and actors hope will raise awareness of sex trafficking – that this isn’t a crime which happens in another country. This is something that, in producing Lilya, the team have become acutely aware of. Once you start to notice all the newspaper articles about sex trafficking, they say, you realise that it is horrifically widespread, it is happening in your town, just down your street.

“The more you read about it, the more you see how important it is,” says the director. “It’s happening everywhere.”

In telling Lilya’s story, they are also telling the story of thousands of other victims of this form of human slavery, not as statistics but as real people who only want a better life. “The play is about lost souls,” says Gunnar. “Their dreams and their hopes. And it’s about survival.”

Lilya, Tuesday until April 19, £10/£6.

Contact Theatre,
Oxford Road,
M15 6JA.

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