by Diana Nneka Atuona.
The CLF Art Café The Bussey Building 133 Rye Lane Peckham SE15 4ST To 7 February.
7.30pm, Sat mat 3pm.
then Bernie Grant Arts Centre Town Hall Approach Road Tottenham N15 4RX 10-14 February 2015.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 3pm.
TICKETS 020 7565 5000 (sold out).
Runs: 1hr 35min No interval.
Review: Carole Woddis 4 February.
Violence and mayhem of war in a remarkable first play.
For a first play Diana Nneka Atuona’s Liberian Girl is remarkable, if not always entirely comprehensible thanks to the authenticity of the accents of the cast’s Liberian boy soldiers. But Matthew Dunster’s Royal Court production brings the violence and mayhem of Liberia’s civil war home in no uncertain fashion in its promenade style, or `immersive’, staging.
The proximity of the actors – mostly very young – and the intensity of their performances creates an atmosphere already made ominous in Anna Fleischle’s sand-strewn jungle setting and Philip Gladwell’s subfusc lighting.
Atuona, a vivid testimony to the success of the Royal Court’s Local Peckham young Writers Group, captures with alarming success the disastrous combination of drugs, illiteracy and gullibility of the boy soldiers who were sucked into Liberia’s fifteen year civil war.
No wonder it won the 2013 best new play Alfred Fagon award and even more impressively was staged as part of the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, chaired by William Hague and Angelina Jolie in 2014. For Liberian Girl, as the title suggests, is a young woman’s story of sexual violence and what it takes to survive in horrific circumstances.
Juma Sharkah plays Martha, a teenager who, when her village is over-run by the rebels and her grandmother is murdered, is forced into becoming a `boy’ soldier, hiding her identity and gender. In a remarkable debut, Sharkah conveys fear, bewilderment, a strutting capacity to conform and kill, to perform simulated sexual acts, but also shows a young woman ultimately bound by the dictates of her female body.
Dunster’s sensitive production, interestingly segregating its audience into male and female, induces a sense of horror without resorting to over-sensationalism, despite scenes of rape, random killings and macabre fighting regalia.
Atuona presents a chaotic and bloody existence, feeding into an all-too-easy stereotype of African mayhem through relationships, the detail of which are sometimes lost in the whirlwind of pubescent macho energy.
But no one can doubt her ability or the play’s power to ultimately wrest a kind of sympathy from the plight of these dangerously bloodthirsty, naive recruits. Sobering.
Soldier: Landry Adelard.
Double Trouble: Michael Ajao.
Anette: Mariéme Diouf.
Amos/Commander: Fraser James.
Solider: Edward Kagutuzi.
Mamie Esther: Cecilia Noble.
Killer: Valentine Olukoga.
Finda: Weruche Opia.
Martha/Frisky: Juma Sharkah.
Director: Matthew Dunster.
Designer: Anna Fleischle.
Lighting: Philip Gladwell.
Sound: George Dennis.
Fight director: Kate Waters.
Dialect coach: Zabarjad Salam.
Assistant director: Roy Alexander Weise.
Liberian Girl was first performed at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, London on 7 January 2015.
First performance at the CLF Theatre in the Bussey Building 3 February 2015 and thereafter at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre Tottenham London 10-14 Feb.
Liberian Girl is part of the Royal Court’s Jerwood New Playwrights programme.