Sex Traffic (C4)

AT a charity dinner in Massachusetts, the rich and the powerful are donating big sums of money to charity, while whispering that "I need to talk to you about the Iraq contract".

In Bosnia, two Moldovan sisters are being used and abused in the sex industry.

And in the middle is a British charity worker, Daniel Appleton, appalled at what he sees of the exploitation of young girls being sold in the sex trafficking trade and determined to do something about it.

Abi Morgan's tough, uncompromising two-part drama wraps up an issue that many know exists but prefer not to dwell on, in a thriller format with much darting backwards and forwards between countries - Bosnia, Italy, Moldova, America, Romania, Nova Scotia and London - as the story is set up.

You can understand why young girls are attracted to the promise of jobs abroad. As one of the sisters at the heart of Sex Traffic is told as an enticement to leave Moldova and work abroad: "You can earn in a month more than you earn in a year here."

The price these girls pay is a heavy one. They are badly treated, raped, sold on to other traffickers and even killed when they've fulfilled their money-making potential. Sometimes they don't even make it abroad - if her boat is stopped by the authorities, a girl is likely be thrown overboard to drown as a decoy.

The girls' true plight becomes apparent for Elena and Vara when the promised flight to London is replaced by a car trip to Bosnia and residency at a club where they're expected to pole dance and have sex with customers.

Speak For Freedom worker Daniel, still reeling from the suicide of an asylum seeker in England that he tried to help, arrives in Sarajevo on charity work and stumbles across Elena. Before she can talk, her pimp is warning her that he'll send someone to kill her baby daughter back home if she doesn't keep quiet.

Their miserable life is in stark contrast to that back in America of Madeleine Harsburgh, whose rich husband Tom's security firm is carrying out protection duties in Bosnia. When he kisses his teenage daughter goodbye you can't stop a shiver of horror, knowing that his company linked with selling girls the same age into a life of prostitution.

How long before Daniel - and Madeleine, for that matter - twig that Tom's business has something to do with the trafficking of women?.

John Simm's charity worker is hardly equipped to turn detective, having already shown an aptitude for getting beaten up by the bad guys. But his conscience and belief in justice for all is clearly going to give him the strength to try to bring this sex traffic to a halt.

The Phantom Of The P'opera, Billingham Forum

THIS rock musical is so bad that you end up studying everything from the lack of sets, ill-assorted costumes, poor acting, rotten script and second-hand sound to the "kitchen sink" rock/pop song crashing out on stage. This can't seriously be heading for the West End as promised in the publicity by producer Chris Moreno, who has previously toured Annie and Crazy For You. The lack of a show programme is a warning sign, with the Forum's marketing boss Liz Cooper valiantly using the dressing room list to name as many stars as she possibly can.

Thankfully most of them can sing, with the unmistakable name of Alvin Stardust playing 1970s star Johnny Hurricane, who becomes the Phantom after an acid attack. As Mr S is now over 60 it was a little alarming watching the clock whirl forward 30 years to 2004 and the Phantom being offered a chance to resurrect his career.

With a huge cast, this parody of Gaston La Roux's story is based on a rock musical in a haunted theatre where singer Christine Sparkle (played by Kellie Holmewood) is thrust into the spotlight when the star, Donna Gabanna (Liz King), throws a wobbler. There's plenty of unintentional amusement as stick-thin Holmewood performs with the most buxom chorus-line you're ever likely to see. Stephanie Dooley as the well-endowed Carol Cleavage, Landi Asminowo as TWA Temptation and skimpily-clad Julie Paton (listed as Sandy, but only referred to as Miss Deed) are definitely the high points of the night. With Alvin shouting "Hi ho Silver" as he tackles evil agent Ferdie Fleece in the closing seconds, this is the show that has your jaw bouncing off the floor.

* Runs until Saturday. Box Office: (01642) 552663

Viv Hardwick