Theatre Review - Liberian Girl

Liberia’s first civil war, from 1989 to 1997, ended in rebel strongman Charles Taylor’s election as president. Taylor famously recruited child soldiers who were forced to commit numerous atrocities including rape, murder and the ransacking of villages. This is the backdrop to Diana Nneka Atunona’s powerful debut.

Dressed as a boy, fourteen-year-old Martha (Juma Sharkah) flees her village with her grandmother, Mamie Esther (Cecilia Noble). After they are captured by a rebel unit and Mamie is dragged away to an uncertain fate, Martha joins the child soldiers to save herself from rape and servitude. She is drawn into another form of slavery, drugged and taught how to use a gun. As the soldiers advance, Martha, now known as Frisky, becomes increasingly worried that her true identity will be discovered.

In Matthew Dunster’s electrifying production we are literally thrown into the line of fire. Those of us in the stage pit are immersed in the action which brings home the full horror of the conflict that brutalised so many children and resulted in untold bloodshed. Sharkah (in a remarkably assured stage debut) leads an impressive and committed cast, whose energy never flags.

It’s courageous staging. Our discomfort as spectators, having to stand for 100 minutes, leaping out of the way when commanded by the actors, mirrors the disturbing subject.

Liberian Girl is evocative political theatre and not to be missed.

Royal Court Upstairs, Until January 31

Tel 020 7565 5000

Originally published by Camden Review