The centrepiece of the feminist theatre festival Calm Down Dear is Racheal Ofori’s So Many Reasons, the hilarious quintessential guide to life has a British Ghanaian woman in the millennial age. What really makes this piece stand out is its sensitive and nuanced treatment of the central character’s relationships with her Christian faith, her culture, her sexuality and her mother. The novelty in Ofori’s one-woman show is that her central character, Melissa, does not completely reject religion and her culture in order to pursue sexual liberation. Instead, she’s coming to terms with the fact that it’s a balancing act and is working through the tense process of oscillating between extremes to find the right ratio. For me, this is a much less explored facet of the British female African identity.
So Many Reasons is the story of Melissa who begins the play by praying to God for a hiatus on life, so that she can work through her quarter life crisis. We switch between flashbacks of her journey to womanhood and her frantic prayers to find meaning and purpose in life. The stage is littered with fluorescent props that serve as keys to memories and in the background, in truly innovative stage design, neon lights punctuate key moments transforming into a mango tree, the Virgin Mary with welcoming arms and an open vagina. It is an ingenious way of switching between the key themes of womanhood, religion and culture.
So Many Reasons’ exploration of womanhood is multi-facetted and easy to relate to; it is a beautiful coming of age story that draws from aspects of life in the church and intergenerational relationships. So classic milestones such as the first crush, or a girl’s first period (hilariously explained in nightmarish urban myth style by Melissa’s sister) are explored through their centring in the African church community, which gives the piece a rare freshness. We watch Mel transform from a self-confident tomboy who is called a lesbian after beating a boy in race, to a holier than thou church girl, to a millennial burdened by unrealistic expectations brought on by social media and unfulfilling casual relationships. While doing all of this, the play is also able to give a thorough treatment to notions of shame in both the Ghanaian community and in religion.
Ofori is a tour de force in So Many Reasons as the piece’s writer and only actress. Her use of poetry really serves to elevate the themes, and she manages to transition from memory to memory reasonably fluidly. She is able to bring consistent laugh out loud humour to difficult questions and superbly captures the essence of a Ghanaian mother (Bible verses and Coming to America life lessons included). She should be commended for the range of characters she plays and her ability to bring depth and dimension to her older African female characters. In other works these characters are merely used as a tool to create comic relief, but Ofori’s characters are truly fleshed out, expressing their own discontents with patriarchy and the behaviours it demands from them.
There is no antidote for the bitter pill (though thoroughly coated in humour) that So Many Reasons serves in regards to questions of faith, purpose, patriarchy and the often-underwhelming nature of supposed feminine milestones. However, So Many Reasons tells us that women – both old and young – are united in grappling with similar issues and that we will all mistakes while doing this. The play leaves the audience with hope that we can catch ourselves and hopefully change for the better.
So Many Reasons is playing at the Camden People’s Theatre as part of Calm Down Dear Festival until 3 February 2018
Photo: Guy Saunders