Edin to London: Roadkill wins Freedom of Expression Award 2010

I’ve just got back to the Edinburgh office from the ceremony to announce the 2010 Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award, and can happily announce that Cora Bissett’s ‘Roadkill’ was the winner. 

The play tackles the issue of sex trafficking and really confronts the audience not just with the realities of life as a trafficked woman, but the fact that this hideous abuse is going on right in the midst of our own communities. Audiences are collected by bus and taken to a basement flat in Edinburgh’s posh New Town, where they sit round the edges of a tiny room where ‘clients’ visit a young girl lured over from Africa with the promise of a better life. 

Sadly the entire run was sold out weeks before the festival started so I didn’t see it. Happily, I spoke to Cora Bissett, who wrote and directed the play, after she’d received the award. She told me that a transfer to London is very much on the cards, so if you live in London, keep an eye out for it. She also told me how much the Amnesty award meant to her which, given that Roadkill has been awarded or nominated for pretty much every theatre award at the festival this year, is good to know.  

I asked her what had inspired her to tackle this subject: she said that sex trafficking had always been a topic that she wanted to address, but that it was meeting and talking to a trafficked woman that provided the final impetus to create the piece. Both she and Joyce McMillan of the Scotsman, one of the award judges, told me that they hoped that the play would make people realise that this isn’t an abuse that’s happening thousands of miles away but potentially in the flat next door.  

All the judges talked about the strength and breadth of the shortlist this year, too: with plays examining the right to education (No Child); a father’s search for justice after his daughter’s killing (Lockerbie: unfinished business); the impact of a racist and unwelcoming society on two children (Speechless); and of course Roadkill, our winner this year.

 It’s been a great festival for Amnesty this year, I think – the campaign for jailed performer Zarganar, a comedian, actor, writer and director from Burma serving 35 years just for criticising the government, has really underlined the strong links between Amnesty and the arts. We defend the right to freedom of expression, something that is essential for all performers; and in turn the arts, as we’ve seen today through the award, can really help to spread a human rights message to new audiences. It’s a symbiotic relationship and I’m already looking forward to rekindling it next year.

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