Rachael Ofori’s multi-character examination of the lives of young black women is encapsulated in one of her central character’s first lines: “What do you see when you see me?” Portrait presents Ofori travelling through a number of quiet, peaceful reflections on body image, religion, education, class and, above all, the perception of black women in the media, to other black women, and to others. The format of the multi-character drama, championed by the likes of Anna Deavere Smith, Sarah Jones, Danny Hoch, and debbie tucker green – provides short case studies for any number of women who exist both as stereotypes/archetypes in society, and real women whose voices are often unheard. The format works to build empathy and to spend time with women in a private moment, a moment usually misunderstood by society at large.
One of the most striking aspects of Ofori’s performance is the way her voice switches between characters, alongside her physicality. While this is a trait of a great actor, it also resonates with how people negotiate the way their voice may or may not give them access to certain cultural capital. There has recently been a controversy over ‘gay voices’ with David Thorpe’s new documentary ‘Do I Sound Gay’ and a number of research studies and twitter responses. At the heart of the matter, and particularly relevant to Ofori’s work, is how the voice, and the control of the voice, is often a strategy (for better or for worse) that is taught, enforced and praised by some, reminding us of how inequitable a world is in which a certain tone of voice – be it black or gay or Northern or American (I often find that I use my more British accent on the phone when doing official business) – can so radically shift not only how we are perceived, but how we perceive others. This fascinating and difficult subject reminds us that we should not only be asked “What do you see when you see me?” but “What do you really hear when you hear me?” (BL)
PORTRAIT, Rachael Ofori, Pleasance Dome 7-29 August. We are unsure of access to this theatre, please contact Pleasance directly. http://www.fueltheatre.com/projects/portrait
More about Rachael’s work: http://vilearts.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/portraying-dramaturgy-racheal-ofori.html
Other links that may be of interest: