Buddha Media, January 2012
Set in Liverpool during the 1780s, this playlet told the story of William
Newton, a slave-merchant who purchased an African slave for labour, and discovered to his horror how the slave had been treated
while being transported from his home country to the United Kingdom. After hearing the tale, Newton resolved to treat the
slave on his own terms as an equal rather than a non-person doomed to spend his life fetching and carrying.
A familiar tale, no doubt, but one well told, with an ingenious use of different
languages. Unlike many slave employers - or present-day employers employing foreign labour - Newton has actually taken the
trouble to learn an African language, enabling him to communicate on equal terms rather than resorting to pidgin English (which
invariably demeans the non-native speaker). He also listens rather than dictates - a quality that immediately renders him
a sympathetic employer. Tran's play does not offer any alternatives to the slave-trade (especially in the late eighteenth
century), but suggests that empathy might be a more suitable means of communication rather than tyranny.
Ably performed by Nicholas Diaz, Paul Holden, Katie Dear and Tran himself as the
slave, Building Freedom offers an engagingly contemporaneous perspective on an ignominious period in British history.