Maiden Speech: Boses (Tristan Bates Theatre)

The Maiden Speech Festival (so called in memory of murdered MP Jo Cox, who made her maiden speech in the House of Commons in June 2015) is now in its third year of presenting women’s work in the theatre.

I was invited to review shows in the festival this year by its enterprising producer Lexi Clare, and chose two shows playing on the same night: the first being a one-woman piece called Boses.

Full of sobering facts and figures about the plight of female Filipino domestic workers in the UK, Boses is part reportage, part song cycle and is devised and performed by Melisa Camba. She gives us a statistic to think about early on: 17.000 domestic workers are brought to the UK each year, 67% are Filipino, 94% are women.

Publicity images for Boses
Publicity images for Boses

Since the introduction of “tied visas” a few years ago, migrant workers have lost any rights to the protection of employment law, and many are trapped in the homes of wealthy employers who do not pay them, make them work long hours with no days off, and do not allow them the freedom to go outside.

These modern slaves, explains Camba, are invisible and often desperate. In one scene, she graphically acts out the daily grind of a migrant domestic worker while an explanation flashes up on screen about the difficult rigmorole of obtaining a visa.

Elsewhere, she builds and then navigates a white (why not red?) tape square, while outlining more stories of women who sleep on the floor, are called by animal names, and forced to work 18 hour days.

Newpaper headlines are shown detailing the level of state-sanctioned oppression of workers who are often physically and mentally abused, but criminalised if they try to leave their employment. Audio testimony details the inability for many of these women to leave places where they believed they would have a better life.

Wall in the theatre decorated for the festival.
Wall in the theatre decorated for the festival.

Camba adds contexual commentary and melodic songs to the proceedings to give these women a voice, perhaps even a bit of hope. I enjoyed the piece, and it made me think, but it isn’t strictly “theatre”, and it suffers a bit from not having a strong character arc – the Filipino woman who touches down at the airport is put to one side after her arrival in the opening scene.

Boses ran at the Maiden Speech festival until 13 November, and was a biligual performance in English and Tagalog (the official language of the Philippines).