Diana Nneka Atuona’s award-winning debut play was first given a staged reading at last year’s Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, chaired by William Hague and Angelina Jolie, and now gets a thrillingly immersive production which is both shockingly realistic and emotionally gruelling.
Set during the early years of the first Liberian civil war, starting in 1992, the story follows 14-year-old Martha, who gets caught up in the violence. Her grandmother Mamie Esther disguises her as a boy, and she is forcibly recruited into the boy-soldier army of Charles Taylor.
Taught the ropes by other teenagers, Killer and Double Trouble, Martha is renamed Frisky and her career as a soldier develops as the army marches, looting and murdering, on Monrovia, the capital of the country. While Martha survives as a boy, other girls are raped, including Finda, who, unaware of Frisky’s real identity, becomes attached to “him”.
The story would be rather banal were it not for Matthew Dunster’s gripping production – which plunges the audience into the thick of the conflict, being pushed around by soldiers and yelled at by commanders. The action always feels dangerous and the atrocities are really horrible.
But, although this kind of experiential theatre is frighteningly powerful, it says nothing about the causes or progress of the civil war – what’s missing is any explanation of the politics of the time. Despite this, the cast perform very strongly, especially Juma Sharkah Martha, Cecilia Noble Mamie Esther, Valentine Olukoga Killer and Michael Ajao Double Trouble. Good acting and a thrilling production make up for a rather simple story.
- Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Royal Court, London
- January 7-January 31, PN January 13
- Author: Diana Nneka Atuona
- Director: Matthew Dunster
- Design: Anna Fleischle set, Philip Gladwell lighting, George Dennis sound
- Technical: Roy Alexander Weise assistant director, Kate Waters fight director, Zabarjad Salam dialect coach, Amy Ball casting, Niall Black production manager, Megan Kearney/David Young stage managers
- Producer: Royal Court
- Cast includes: Michael Ajao, Fraser James, Cecilia Noble, Valentine Olukoga, Weruche Opiaand, Juma Sharkah
- Running time: 1hr 35mins