There’s nothing more exciting than feeling like you’ve stumbled upon a truly promising writer and performer at the start of their artistic journey. Racheal Ofori, who wrote and delivers her first one woman show, Portrait, currently playing at Stratford Circus before heading on a UK tour, is a real pleasure to watch, and she has a genuine flair for writing to boot.
Over the course of an hour, Ofori introduces us to a range of fascinating characters from all over the world. Between each, we return to the young Candice, a funny and opinionated teenager forced to attend sessions with a guidance councillor at her college. Through these vignettes, Ofori discusses everything from race, to online dating, to female beauty standards, often doing so with a sharp wit that had the audience frequently in peals of laughter. Ofori clearly has a gift for coming up with clever one-liners which she delivers with ease and style.
What’s most apparent in Portrait is that Ofori has something interesting and really pressing to say about a number of important topics, as well as the ability to draw unique, engaging and relatable characters. However, what becomes somewhat frustrating about the show as it goes on is that we don’t get the chance to really sink our teeth deep into either.
Portrait needs a stronger dramaturgical hand than what director Kate Hewitt seems to have offered to really get to what the heart of Ofori wants to do and say with the show, and to find the most effective way to say it. In its current form, it feels more like an hour of character comedy or stand up, rather than the boundary pushing play it wants to be. A stronger directorial hand in shaping the work, given that Ofori is relatively new to writing, might have help to really hone the material into a play which really packs a punch.
While I loved seeing each of the characters, I couldn’t find a clear reason why they sat alongside each other. The characters and vignettes don’t feel like they really tie in to each other, nor build on the point being made. I love that Ofori wants to talk about so many things, but her doing so is the show’s undoing. Each character was fantastic, flawed and loveable, but I found myself wishing I was watching one play – rather than dipping into each and not being clear on how they all hung together.
As it stands, while we see moments of really refreshing anger and insight from Ofori, it’s not clear exactly what we’re meant to take away from the play, and indeed the rather twee ending undermines the refreshing honesty about the state of the world that the audience so enjoyed throughout.
Nonetheless, I look forward to future work from Ofori, but work which doesn’t shy away from throwing itself at a topic and truly tackling it, and that really gives us a chance to study the wonderful characters she comes up with who we all too often don’t see on stage, and which our world is definitely less colourful for not seeing. This is show is an exciting chance to see a great talent in the making, with Ofori an undoubtedly loud and exciting voice to watch out for.
Portrait played Stratford Circus until 24October. For more information, see the Stratford Circus website.