Bouncing across the stage of Camden People’s Theatre, Lanre Malaolu uses the physical to reflect the social. His movement on stage mirrors his movement through life, echoing the way his body as a black man in Britain today is seen, read, and considered by others. Taking on stereotypes but looping them, making them strange by heightening and twisting their dynamics, his athletic investment adds weight to what might otherwise be familiar representations. The characters Malaolu embodies are varied, from the inspirational football coach to someone all cocky young swagger. They are each archetypes of identity consistently played out in television, film and the media, from news reports to Channel 4 drama. He differentiates each through a discrete posture (like a slouch in a Nando’s booth), and/or a series of sparse actions (sedately trimming hair in a barbershop).
Although distinct, within the show these different characters, both the central ‘Michael’ and the unnamed others, could easily also make sense as a single figure – one person rendered in multiple fragments. Malaolu’s shifting shows how the articulate and inspirational speech given to even younger men in a half-time huddle might itself cloak a deep insecurity, always at risk of fracturing under the pressure. Or how the wisdom of an older man might reflect a lifetime of the same pressures he now gives advice on. In doing so it makes plain how the marginalizing operations of society relies on those it puts under pressure to prop up those it will fall on next.
As much as each set of movements, postures and different voices delineate characters, Malaolu’s performance adds one more. The body of a trained dancer, the way someone moves who has put in the time to learn his technique, is itself an embodiment of a personality. A way to exist in the world, a way to define your own body, from the mastery of steps to the poise of the stance. It controls the gaze of the audience, the way the body is seen, in a way that those young men represented here are usually denied.
- Lewis Church
Links relevant to this diagnosis:
Elephant In the Room – Guardian
‘Up My Streets’ Project – MIND
Perceptions of Young Black Men – Independent
MANDEM– Media platform for young men of colour.