CONCHA, Brixton House

by Diana Miranda

As part of The Housemates Festival, City Lighthouse Theatre Company presents CONCHA, a one-person show (written and performed by Carly Fernandez) telling a semi-autobiographical story about intersectionality of queer and immigrant experiences in the UK. After the protagonist finds out they’ve contracted an STD, they navigate past and current relationships interacting with multiple characters through voice-overs.

The show weaves these interactions with scenes where Fernandez speak to the audience about what it’s like to navigate post-Brexit society as a nonbinary, Latinx immigrant with a broken heart. Under Manisha Sondhi’s direction, Fernandez utilises audiovisual media to tell the story with a laidback, TED Talk vibe covering queer sex and cultural microaggressions. The joys of a masturbation, the pursuit of a British accent, and skin colours in hidden areas (wink, wink), are all touched upon.

Fernandez’s versatile performance leads us through their journey with a sharp tongue and an open heart. Their cheeky tone makes the audience feel like they’re taking part in an inside joke. But it’s not all cheeky and fun throughout – the text is honest, heart-wrenching at times. Its overarching narrative incites laughter, tears, and laughter again as the protagonist share the influence that family, friends and colleagues have in shaping someone’s identity. What starts as a fierce character slowly peels off their outer layers to show their vulnerability but overall, the show has an uplifting note thanks to Fernandez’s charisma.

City Lighthouse’s production uses surtitles to translate an unexpected phone call from Paraguay that sits at CONCHA’s heart. This section, unfiltered both in language and emotions, brings the audience closer to the character and highly resonates with the conservatism and macho masculinity that still prevails in Latin America. It leaves the audience reaching for a tissue right before Fernandez snaps back to their cheeky self.

While the text successfully squeezes in the related complexities of self-care and healing relationships (a.k.a. simply being a human being), it could benefit from further integration of these ideas because the script doesn’t have a clear form that brings together monologues and chats as a coherent whole. However, the storytelling is well-connected thanks to Sondhi’s staging and stylistic thread. CONCHA also proves rich in detail about the protagonist’s worldviews, but the urge to evidence their emotional journey makes the text over-elaborate when the character engages in imaginary conversations. While this fosters empathy and understanding, some sections could afford trimming and conciseness. The protagonist is well-written and multi-layered, so they could still stand on their own.

As a playful, heartening show, CONCHA bluntly lays out the realities of the society we live in as seen through the lenses of people of colour and the LGBTQIA+ community: xenophobia, racism, diversity hires, sexual health, and relationships. All these boil down to one main gist: identity. How it may be shaped by how others perceive us, and how delicate the journey towards self-love is in a world that fosters rejection above acceptance.

CONCHA runs through 29 April.

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