In today’s world, where black people witness the Ferguson shootings on their televisions, how can the feeling not be of being under systematic attack? In her play, Racheal Ofori takes hold of this mood of endangerment and anger around racial abuse, and tries to channel it into something useful.
Ofori first presents herself as a smart-mouthed and disgruntled teenager, taking the English education system down a peg and giving her councillor a run for their money. This service for disadvantaged minorities bears all the signs of striving for moral superiority (“PC”, it dawns, stands for “politely condescending”).
Over a series of excellent transformations, Ofori intelligently uses ‘type-characters’ to spell out a new message. She becomes a reggae-spirited immigrant from Ghana who has their English dreams of easy living and meeting the Queen dashed. A soul-singing preacher tells the black congregation to stop revelling in their victimhood and instead address problems in their community, specifically misogyny and the frequent abandonment of single-parent mothers.
Tautly directed by Kate Hewitt on a spare stage, the player is malleable in her monologue, delivered in chic stylish verse. Complexly, she also conveys pressures not felt exclusively on black people. A soft-spoken student worships Oxford and can’t imagine her father’s reaction if she doesn’t get in. A bridesmaid hilariously sends up her body-image issues as she struggles to fit into her dress.
This diversity lends to a powerful message: of not literally seeing the world in black and white. A heavily-monitored ‘PC’ culture seems to sustain imbalance because it insists on keeping categories separate. But Ofori plays across these stock representations, acknowledging specific problems in the black community but also dissolving differences. Maybe this is done with the hope of alternative representations. A most worthwhile message appears to be to embrace life irrespective of boundaries.
Portrait ran as part of the Edinburgh Fringe, and will be on tour until 18 Nov. For more information and tickets, see the Fuel Theatre website.