Diana Nneka Atuona's remarkable debut play was originally aired at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence and now kicks off the Royal Court's year in Matthew Dunster's powerfully disturbing immersive production in the Theatre Upstairs.
With extraordinary boldness and range of empathy, the piece plunges us into the early years of the first Liberian Civil War (1989-1996) in which over 200, 000 people were killed, and it offers a joltingly unusual perspective on the recruitment and brutalisation of child soldiers in the “Small Boy Units”.
As the rebels approach, 14 year old Martha (a stunningly convincing Juma Sharkah) is hustled into prudent male disguise by her grandmother but she is then compelled to play the boy for real when the soldiers – alarmingly high on cocaine and blood lust and angrily herding the audience round the red sand floor – recruit her to their ranks.
The ironies and contradictions of Martha's imposture (in one appalling scene she has to pretend to join in the rape of a young girl) are painfully elaborated. As she becomes hardened and more adept at faking it, her residual humanity is expressed through her initially reluctant protection of the abducted and abused Finda (splendid Weruche Opia). A devastating, freshly-angled indictment of misogyny.
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