Written by Esther Wilson, John Fay, Tony Green and Lizzie Nunnery
Directed by Nina Raine
Everyman Theatre, 10th March - 1st April 2006

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

Real life situations often produce the best drama, and this is definitely the case with this hard-hitting production, which is a searing indictment of the role of prostitution within Liverpool society.

Nina Raine expertly directs Unprotected, which focuses heavily upon the demand to have protected zones in certain areas of Liverpool for prostitutes to ply their trade in, and the strong arguments for and against this proposal.

The story is based around the horrendous 2003 murder of two Liverpool prostitutes - Hanane Parry and Pauline Stephen - who had their bodies chopped up and placed into bin bags. The four writers pull no punches in their condemnation of these appalling crimes and the circumstances which led up to them.

It draws upon hundreds of interviews with prostitutes, local residents, the police, politicians and punters. Their comments open the door to the clandestine world in which the meat trade is conducted.

Leanne Best gives a magnificent performance in the role of Ali - a prostitute who articulates the wretchedness and despair often endured by girls on the street - and her own torment brought about by a fragmented family and the constant threat to her life whenever she picked up a client.

She spoke about one particular incident when she was kidnapped by a religious freak, who handcuffed her and burned multiple crucifixes into her back, raping her three times. He was then going to slay her with a kitchen knife but she escaped by throwing herself out of a window of his flat, sustaining broken bones in the process.

The public and judicial perception of prostitutes being almost worthless was starkly shown when Ali - in heartrending tones - told how her assailant would have received a long stretch in prison if she had been a so-called 'respectable' woman. Instead of this he got an eighteen month suspended jail sentence.

The first act leaves no stone unturned in telling it how it is within this sordid industry, with many of the girls forced to walk the street to feed their drug addiction to heroin and crack cocaine. The mothers of the two murdered girls - Pat (Pauline Daniels) and Diane (Pauline Kempson) - convey the pain, anguish and regret of losing their daughters in such a terrible way.

The second act opens on a humorous note, with Daniels and Kempson now playing two middle-aged prostitutes who exchanged banter about life on the street and how things have changed for the worse within their profession.

But the production soon reverts to the grim reality suffered by those involved in the industry, although Ali feels uplifted at the end of the play. Her dad tells her that she had never changed in his eyes, shortly before he dies.

In a strong cast, special mention should be made of Paul Duckworth, who played four separate roles, including the police liaison officer who empathised with the plight of the prostitutes on his patch.

A key component in the production is the backdrop, which shows panoramic shots of Liverpool by day and at night.

Unprotected provides a bleak, lonely and cold mind landscape - there is little warmth or humanity in this netherworld - but the issues which the play deals with will resonate not just on a local scale, but also nationally and internationally.

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