Image: Graeme Braidwood

“It was real, gritty and understated”: a review of ‘Concubine’

Concubine is a brilliant and breath-taking, gritty portrayal of the abuse of young women in the urban music industry. Amarha Spence, who wrote and performed Concubine, delivers a masterpiece focused on womanhood, sexuality and faith in the face of acute abuse, mistrust and lack of consent.

The play, focused on the life of a young Latina Catholic living in Birmingham, follows her life as she navigates the waters of the urban music scene, using her talent as a singer to deliver hooks and upload videos on YouTube. Though the play begins innocent, sweet and at times funny, with stories of her childhood, her drunken mother providing anecdotes on why she shouldn’t trust men, stories of her friends and her ‘boyfriend’ figure, we realise there is a harsh reality of the vulnerability of young women who have no security in their lives falling prey to abusive men they believe to be their ‘saviours’. The girl quickly realises the harsh reality of life under the wing of young men who wish to exploit her sexually and to further themselves under the guise of helping her. At times the performance was hard to watch, as Spence stared me in the face while describing her sexual trauma. It was real, gritty and understated in its lasting effect on the audience.

We realise there is a harsh reality of the vulnerability of young women who have no security in their lives falling prey to abusive men they believe to be their ‘saviours’

The intimate performance at Birmingham’s Repertory Theatre allows Spence to deliver her performance, in the one-person show, exquisitely. Her transition between roles on stage was effortless and the musical element of the show entranced the audience into feeling the emotions and travelling through the traumatic ordeals alongside her. Powerful lines (such as “That’s the funny thing about power, we’re so willing to give it up when we don’t even know what it’s worth”) illustrate the poignancy and emotion of Spence’s performance and her literary ability. Spence was colloquial but familiar in her language use. Her energy when delivering the words meant the 60 minutes flew by: the play was over before I realised it.

Her energy when delivering the words allowed the 60-minute running to fly by, the play was over before I realised

The audience was left speechless by the devastating effect the trauma had placed on the young girl, from sexual abuse and ordeals and an abstract form of human trafficking. The visual and audio backing aided the performance brilliantly, while Spence utilised a simple stage with a wooden structure exquisitely. With the structure, a mic stand and her phone as the only main props on stage, it was clear that the most importance was to be placed on her words, her singing, and her experience. I commend the performance and writing by Spence – it’s one I will remember for a long time, and provides a hard-hitting message which is rarely explored on stage or in real life.

Concubine is at Birmingham Repertory Theatre until 2 March. You can buy tickets here.

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