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Liberian Girl

Published 14 January 2015

What’s it all about?

This debut play from Diana Nneka Atuona is a harrowing tale of brutality and survival set during the first Liberian Civil War of the late 80s and early 90s.

On the eve of her ritual trip to bush school, young teenager Martha is forced to flee the Charles Taylor-supporting rebels. Caught with her grandmother on the road to capital city Monrovia, she takes drastic measures to avoid her gender being discovered, saving herself from the most horrific treatment but instead becoming a rebel soldier.

Who’s in it?

Juma Sharkah makes a remarkable professional stage debut under the closest audience scrutiny as Martha, aching with vulnerability and fear, hardening and transforming but never entirely losing her heart.

The young, raw cast with barely a handful of professional credits between them – who look, deliberately, terrifyingly young to be wielding guns – find all the bravado, suppressed fear and power lust in this hideous caricature of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys.

What should I look out for?

Well, you won’t need to look out for it – you watch the play while being moved around it – but Anna Fleischle’s immersive set is worth taking the time to fully appreciate. Make sure you enter the auditorium early to give yourself time to wander across the red sand floor and explore the rearranged auditorium before you are ushered around it during the action.

Also, all the bits you really want to look away from. Liberian Girl doesn’t shy away from bringing fear and violence, both sexual and not, to the stage. You can be inches from the action. You’ll want to turn or hide behind your hands. Don’t. There’s a reason its uncomfortable and it’s hugely important to feel.

In a nutshell?

Child soldiers, battleground violence, wartime exploitation, FGM, self-preservation and a hint of hope; Atuona’s debut play slaps you in the face with the horrors of civil war, almost literally.

What’s being said on Twitter?

@EmmaRatnavel If you can get a ticket, I urge you to see #LiberianGirl @royalcourt! Clever, harrowing and current!

@NicholasQuirke #LiberianGirl @royalcourt puts the audience into the midst of a brutal civil war which becomes all too real. Horrifying and exciting theatre

Will I like it?

Like? Hmmm… It’s probably not the word for a show depicting rape, discussing FGM and where aggressive moral-free characters wave guns in your face. Should you see it? Absolutely.

As uncomfortable as the story is, it must be told. Yes, we may already know that many of the actions depicted happened, and still happens. Does that make it any less important to continue exposing them, talking about them and forcing people to face up to atrocity? Absolutely not. Standing as an audience member amid the action is clearly a world away from living through such soul destroying events, but even a hint of the horror cuts to the core.

Liberian Girl runs at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs until 31 January. You can book tickets through the show’s website.

Following its Royal Court run, Liberian Girl will play at the CLF Theatre at the Bussey Building from 3 to 7 February and at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre from 10 to 14 February.

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