DramaLondonReview

Conundrum – Young Vic Theatre, London

Reviewer: Stephen Bates

Writer and director: Paul Anthony Morris

As children, we believe that anything is possible, that we can become whatever we choose and that no obstacles will stand in our way. Looking back at those aspirations in middle age, how many of us will feel disappointed? Conundrum is a new 75-minute one-act play, written and directed by Paul Anthony Morris, which explores the gulf between childhood dreams and adult reality.

Fidel (Anthony Ofoegbu, articulating the character’s thoughts as in a monologue) was a child of the 1970s. Now, in lockdown, he sifts through old diary entries, exam results and letters of rejection for jobs which all give as their reason that he is “over-qualified”. The papers are put through the shredder. He strains to recall the sort of facts learned at school that prove to be useless in later life, adding them to a jumble of words laid across the stage floor in Sean Cavanagh’s design. 

Confidently, Fidel boasts that he was ten times brighter than any other kid, but he offers little corroboration and Morris never reveals whether he had been just a cocky brat or a genuine talent who had gone on to under-achieve. Further, we are not told precisely how Fidel has been a disappointment as an adult, but we see him driven by his perceived failures to a mental breakdown, needing to be injected with sedatives by a psychiatrist (Filip Krenus). He perceives his fate as having been pre-ordained by the circumstances into which he was born and which would always remain outside his control.

Ofoegbu grabs this rather depressing piece by the throat and delivers a performance of intense visceral power, heightened by balletic movement directed by Shane Shambhu. So remarkable is the actor that he produces the presumably unwanted effect of making this production of a play, which is built on a thin and somewhat obvious premise, seem overblown. When Fidel states that he has been a victim of racism (so indoctrinated with it that he had contributed to his own failures), it feels as if Morris is throwing in a weighty theme almost as an afterthought and the ideas which could arise from it are never properly developed.

“I know who I am” exclaims Fidel repeatedly, as if reaching this point is equal to unearthing the meaning of life, but Morris does not invite the audience to share in his discovery. Posing unanswered (and perhaps unanswerable) questions, the play is profoundly puzzling. It is a tough watch, but, nonetheless, Ofoegbu is spellbinding.

Runs until 4 February 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Profoundly puzzling

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