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.
You can be who you want to be, right? Rob, a driving instructor in modern day Romford, believes himself to be an 8th century Chinese poet from the Tang Dynasty. When he finally chooses to live the sequestered life of a poet out on the marshes in a wooden hut, it has huge repercussions on his family and friends. The whole thing’s silly – sure, you can choose a career, or where you live, but contrary to what Rachel Dolezal and desperate sci-fi fans may think, we cannot chose our race or the century we live in.
By guest critic Alistair Wilkinson
The fetishism of absorbing someone else’s life and making it your own is the theme explored in Swifties, particularly how to give your world meaning when everything seems so dismal. The play puts in to question why celebrities exist – is it for people like Nina and Yasmin, whose obsession with their idol Taylor Swift has totally taken control over their own identity?
Laura Dean has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She’s afraid she’s going to kill herself in her sleep so spends at least two hours before bed checking her house for anything she could use to self-harm. Scarves and tights are hidden away, as are knives and other sharp objects. She can’t sleep without her checking routine and after months of exhaustion, she’s had enough. An NHS diagnosis comes with a round of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy sessions that help her recover, but introduce several ideas that make Dean question the nature of her self. This Room is a gently communal experience where Dean provides insight into the recovery process. There are plenty of clinical reports, forms and questionnaires but Dean’s individuality is never drowned out by these or by the condition she fights.
The audience is in Dean’s bedroom with her as she works through the most commonly held thoughts by people suffering from OCD. She confesses that she wants to know what’s going on inside her head so she can understand what’s really wrong with her, something she still hasn’t quantified after the pages of documented appointments she reads at lightening speed. The clinical nature of her recitations is a lovely juxtaposition to the soft, confession-like anecdotes from her treatment, most notably the session where her therapist (with the perfect bottom) visits her at home to confront her fears, represented by a serpentine tangle of tights, head on. The whole piece is intimate, quiet and deeply personal.
Dean has a soft strength that’s immensely watchable, whether she’s sitting silently on the edge of the stage clutching her water bottle, or reading her medical notes into a stand mic. The audience immediately sides with her, and dutifully responds to her questions. The empathy is tangible, and a group hug would not be out of place after the curtain call.
This Room avoids sentimentality or an overabundance of awareness-raising. Instead, it’s a personal account of a treatment process and an individual response to it. Will Dean ever really be well? If so, does that mean she’s not really herself anymore? These are big questions that don’t have an immediate answer, but are examined in a wonderful format that is a privilege to witness.
This Room runs through 27 April.
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