An ambitious and brave undertaking, Swedish director, Tommy Lexén journeyed into war ravaged DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) to collect real testimonies from former child soldiers to write Like Enemies of the State. “I [was] interested in exploring the situation for the former child soldiers when they are no longer heard,” he says.
Centering on three boy soldiers, out of around 30 interviewed, we see snapshots of their ordeals. Pierre (Maurico Brandes) is almost drowned by his commander in a washing up bowl, Kondo (Vikash Bhai) gets beaten savagely in a young offenders’ institute, his only offence deserting rank. Knowing these stories are real makes them hit home, but most powerful was Luiana Bonfim’s performance. Alternating between devoted, tender mother of a fractured family, and then as the swaggering child soldier, Damien (just four when recruited) high on drugs and alcohol, she was a magnetic force on stage. The others recreated the fear and naivety of their real-life counterparts finely, but Brazilian-born Mauricio Brandes’ American-tinged accent was distracting as was his long hair and beard (making the imaginary leap just a bit too high).
Production company BeFrank’s agenda is to really connect its audiences with the social and political issues of the day. Charmingly, the connection was achieved as much by the small, thoughtful details of the staging choices as by performances. We loved the transformation of the New Diorama into colourful Congo, with Hiroko Matsuo’s set a swathe of African fabrics draped above and around us from clothes lines. We also loved the Congolese instrumental soundtrack, reminding us of the Congo's gentleness within its dark heart. Film projections of the real child soldier interviewees on white sheets were a poignant touch and could have been made more of than their brief appearances allowed.
This is an ambitious project and Lexén admits he now feels a responsibility to his subjects. Thank goodness. Most heartrending was the information that the boys simply wanted to tell their stories because they thought no one was listening. It’s a small thing to ask and this production – which aims to go on tour over the next two years – can be one means to reaching awareness of why child soldiers go into battle and what becomes of them.
Like Enemies of the State is at the New Diorama Theatre, 15-16 Triton Street, Regents Place, London, NW1 3BF, until Saturday 26 October. Tickets £12.50 (£10 concessions).
Londonist saw this performance on a complimentary review ticket.