Identity Crisis, Ovalhouse

Phina Oruche has had an extraordinary career. Growing up in Liverpool to Nigerian parents and desperately wanting to see more of the world, she let her best friend Amy talk her into doing a modelling photoshoot as a teenager. Soon she found herself living and working in London, then New York and LA. Eventually tiring of the high fashion world and feeling the pull of her home, she moved back to the UK where he career led her firmly into the film and telly world. Now a mum and conflicted about the cultural pushing and pulling on her life, she examines who she really is the self-penned Identity Crisis. The punchy tapestry of characters and experiences has messy and confusing moments and no clear resolution or story, but it’s brimming with heart and life.

Focusing primarily on narrating episodes from her career, it’s clear that Oruche defines herself primarily by what she does. Her journey is supported with projected photos of magazine covers and ad campaigns gone by, and becoming the people she meets, though these aren’t always fully explained – there’s an Italian man she meets in an airport, but he then reappears again without connection. A rasta man is equally entertaining and also showcased without context.

Oruche’s characterisations are a delight to watch, even if the people she embodies are often plonked into her choppy narrative without clear reason. Her transformational work brings them wholly to life and they are the highlight of the piece.

Her design is whimsical and relevant – white umbrellas on stands evoke light reflectors, and her backdrop and flooring is a white infinity curve. She is always in the spotlight and on display, reinterpreted by photographers and editors. Her blackness is exotic, foreign and often stereotyped; it’s no wonder she eventually tired of the industry. There’s a lot more to be said on cultural interpretations of her appearance, but even scraping the surface as she does, Oruche draws attention to the white, western penchant for exoticising the racial Other.

Though this joyful work would benefit from dramaturgical support, it’s fun and celebratory rather than a condemning look at the fashion and film industries. Oruche is charismatic and engaging, bursting from the confines of the text. A lesser performer would make this play more of slog, but she gives the impression that she could make even the worst script entertaining.

Identity Crisis runs through 13 May.

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