Writer: Racheal Ofori
Director: Kate Hewitt
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
It can be hard for a middle-aged white male reviewer to appreciate fully what Britain’s young black Britons go through on a daily basis, of the assumptions made about their lives and aspirations, and how condescending any attempts to offer assistance can seem. In Racheal Ofori’s one-woman show Portrait, such condescension is one the many facets of life that this young writer-actor delves into through a succession of monologues, poetry and the occasional dance move. The resultant effect is a work that is often hilarious and always immensely entertaining.
Some of the character portraits that Ofori sketches here are well observed, if treading some familiar ground. The student who is looking forward to university, her parents’ expectations weighing heavily on her decision; the bridesmaid who is struggling to fit into her dress for the big day; the Ghanian immigrant whose relentless optimism and delight at starting a new life in London come to earth with a bump. Each makes some subtle points, from body image and the burden of expectations to the difficulties of dating. Ofori’s script, which slips between prose monologue and rhythmic poetry with seductive ease, imbues each with a canny distinctiveness, even when struggling to escape stereotype.
But Portrait’s true genius is distilled into its greatest, and only recurring, character. Candice is a precocious, motormouthed schoolgirl who has been sent to weekly counselling sessions in order to help her become a “better member of school society”. There is a sense that any disruptiveness she has is rooted in a deep sense of injustice in the world, coupled with a sense of disempowerment and an inability to contribute to change.
As the character recurs, there is a sense of her growth in confidence, but her breakthrough comes when she stops talking and listens to her counsellor – who then returns the favour and helps provide Candice with the key to unlock her own potential.
And so too, Portrait shows the potential of Rachael Ofori as a powerful new voice. Whether she chooses to pursue character comedy, playwriting, or (as here) continues to mix both, she will be unmissable as she does so.
Runs until 18 November 2015| Image:Tom Medwell