Review: Identity Crisis, Ovalhouse

According to the blurb for Phina Oruche’s one-woman show Identity Crisis, the show is about Oruche’s personal journey through fashion and media, and what these different platforms have made of her black identity.

It starts with Oruche telling us about her 19-year-old niece’s sudden passing in 2011, which prompted a press intrusion in her home. What follows, however, quickly turns into a personal show-and-tell circling around Oruche’s anecdotal experiences of being a model.

There is something very accessible about Identity Crisis. Oruche has an inviting, if slightly nervous energy. She has a lot to tell about her truly adventurous life, with a couple of name-drops on the way that she herself acknowledges with an all-knowing smile. She is a clear master of accents; she embodies characters from all walks of life and does it with gusto, whether that’s Amy from Liverpool, or Oruche’s overprotective mother. Each character comes to life quite vividly, even if they get a little muddled towards the last half hour of the piece.

Oruche is a clever performer, but not entirely in control; the piece far too often dips into a casual conversational tone, losing its dynamic tempo. Between episodes of her story the lights fade out in a filmic manner, but instead of structuring her piece, they are quite jarring. In fact, every lighting choice seems a tad misplaced; the intention of creating different spaces through lighting is clear, but unfortunately, they do not really work and instead only overcomplicate the performance.

I also couldn’t help but question the performance’s set: white sheets, office chairs, and umbrellas are scattered around the small studio, indicating perhaps of the scene of a photoshoot. But they have almost no practical functions or impact, and Oruche has to move them on multiple occasions to make sure neither sightlines nor her actions are blocked by them. It is almost as if her set is fighting the space and her as well.

Even the sheet in the background used to show Oruche’s old photos seems to lose its impact more and more. Perhaps having no set at all would have helped to eliminate any clumsiness and to guide our attention towards Oruche’s story alone.

Identity Crisis is perhaps not much of a crisis but rather a study on identity; it puts New York, California, London, and Liverpool (among other places) under Oruche’s magnifying glass. The glamour and appeal of the modelling industry are successfully subverted, but towards the end it is hard to remember the initial tragic event that prompted the piece, as it is overshadowed by the abundance of detail from Oruche’s career.

Identity Crisis played at Ovalhouse until 13 May. The show heads to Ormskirk at the Festival Ideas on 22 June at the Edge HillArts Centre.

Franciska Éry

Franciska Éry

Franciska studies a masters in Performance Making at Goldsmiths, University of London. When not performing or directing, she loves watching unconventional theatre, editing short films and making up embarrassing choreographies in her bedroom