Juma Sharkah & Weruche Opia in Liberian Girl at the Royal Court. Credit Johan Persson
Diana Nneka Atuona has written characters that will stick in your mind for a long time and a story that will stay in your heart for life.
Having been awarded the 2013 Alfred Fagon Award, plus a staging at last year's Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, it seems Diana Nneka Atuona's first play Liberian Girl is yet to loose its hype as we are invited to the latest staging at The Royal Court before it goes on to be performed at The Bussey Building and Bernie Grant Art Centre. An emotionally exhausting hour and a half later though, there is no question of believing the hype.
Standing within the cast's performance space for the entire 90 minutes, we are warned numerous times of scenes of strong sexual violence, loud gunshots and strobe lighting. Treading over the red gravel that covers the floor and ducking under the clothes strung out on the washing line, the audience try to find a suitable spot to stand as we walk in on a girl laying next to a lantern reading Of Mice and Men.
Cecilia Noble & Juma Sharkah in Liberian Girl at the Royal Court. Credit Johan Persson
We soon learn her name is Martha. A 14-year-old bookworm brought up by her grandmother, this is her story of survival. Left to fend for herself in the midst of the Liberian Civil War in 1992 Martha learns to portray herself as a boy to escape what would be her inevitable rape and murder. A shaved head and bandaged down breasts help keep Martha under cover as she is forced to join the enemy and train with a unit of child soldiers.
Juma Sharkah gives an unbelievably powerful professional stage debut as Martha alongside an equally forceful cast. Horribly heavy amounts of power shift scene-to-scene, sometimes moment-to-moment and your heart breaks for each character as the lines between good and evil are blurred. Diana Nneka Atuona has written characters that will stick in your mind for a long time and a story that will stay in your heart for life.
Edward Kagutuzi,Valentine Olukoga,Landry Adelard,Juma Sharkah&Michael Ajao in Liberian Girl.Credit Johan Persson
Liberian Girl is at the Royal Court theatre until January 31, 2015 | Book tickets
Diana Nneka Atuona - interview