Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Eclipsed

Danai Gurira
Gate Theatre, Notting Hill

The subject matter of American playwright Danai Gurira's docudrama, set in around 2003, coincidentally draws on similar material to that for Liberian Girl, which played at the Royal Court at the beginning of the year.

Where Diana Nneka Atuona took her viewers into the heart of combat in the footsteps of a feisty girl soldier, the focus here remains firmly on the four wives of a never-seen army commanding officer, "The CO".

He is a tinpot tyrant of the kind that wars often seem to throw up, or maybe just a typical man, having his way with an enslaved harem whenever the mood arises.

Quickly, the hierarchy is established. Michelle Asante's Number 1 nominally rules the roost, being suitably domesticated. She is also old and barren, having reached her mid-20s and undergone brutality of a kind that most of us will thankfully never experience.

Joan Iyola is Number 3, the flighty, flirty one whose pregnancy broadly frames the duration of a drama that closes with unexpected freedom as the forces of "the monkey Charles Taylor" are finally defeated bringing hope of peace.

The central figure though, in Caroline Byrne’s atmospheric production, is Letitia Wright's newly-arrived Number 4. In this company, the 15-year-old counts as highly educated having learned to read. This allows the youngster to entertain her peers with a cast-out biography of Bill Clinton. It also lets viewers compare and contrast life in America with that in Liberia.

The missing wife, Number 2, played by Faith Alabi, is a gun-toting warrior who will defer to no man, happy to fight both for her people and her own independence.

She becomes a big influence, enticing Number 4 with relative wealth and power but in doing so leading the younger woman into a tragedy that affects the teenager deeply.

The cast is completed by T'nia Miller who takes the part of Rita, a peacenik who has given up her business empire to campaign for an end to the bloodshed. She has an ulterior motive having seen her own teenaged daughter disappear, presumably kidnapped by a warlord or army units.

Eclipsed lacks the sheer excitement of Liberian Girl and Matthew Dunster's unforgettable staging. Where it scores is in showing how a quintet of ordinary women have their lives blighted by a civil war that is slowly draining the life out of their country and, by extension, its comparators in so many other places today.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher