IDENTITY

Elephant in the Room // Lanre Malaolu

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:

Lanre Malaolu

Elephant In the Room – Guardian

‘Up My Streets’ Project – MIND

Perceptions of Young Black Men – Independent

MANDEM– Media platform for young men of colour.

100 Black Men of London 

Hope Hunt and the Ascension into Lazarus // Oona Doherty

The audience hubbub subsides as a clapped-out old car with a bin bag taped over the front passenger side window revs up to just in front of Vooruit, its shell suited occupants diving out to fall to the floor. From the car blasts out music, lyrics suggesting the Northern Irish origin and Belfast base of the artist. People crane their heads in the drizzle to see over the shoulders of people in front of them, and the two who tumbled from the car continue to dance.

This street scene makes sense as the place where the piece begins. It reminds me of the earlier days of teenage licenses, aimless driving around and the blaring of music on suburban streets. Of brief furtive incursions into the city, from where you live to where it all happens. And then the car drives off, leaving the artist alone in the road with the reedy bass from the car fading off into the distance. This forlorn figure, angry in their loneliness, turns back to the crowd.  

Go inside the theatre! Go inside the theatre!’ they bellow.

Obligingly trudging up endless stairs and taking up seats, the solo movement which follows trips and wallows in the universal visual language of bored and disaffected men. Gender is the subject throughout, a physical and vocal cycling through anger, cockiness and vulnerability in language after language - from German to English to guttural cough. The transition from space to space is as smooth as the invisible seams between dialect shifts, suggesting perhaps a universal European anxiety, an illustration of a free movement of deprivation, forgetfulness and the rejection of empathy that prowls round the backs of our superficial wealth. 

The solo ends in rapturous choral form, before the back doors swing open to reveal the picture of the missing driver, long lost from the car and alone at a cheap folding table. Watching tinny football on a glowing laptop whilst drinking beer. It’s an image that could be snapped in any country in the world of an isolated man and the undocumented experience of small room unhappiness. The audience are invited to share a beer in the space of the stage, a social bond to be formed in the dim half-light from the sad picture behind. The move-down begins and ends in the slow shuffle of feet, with drinks clasped to our breasts like guards against feeling. The football plays on. 

-      Lewis Church

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Oona Doherty - Hope Hunt and the Ascension in Lazarus

Oona Doherty takes on Belfast’s Hardest Men - Irish Times

La danse virulente et poétique d’Oona Doherty - Le Monde (en Français)

The Crisis in Modern Masculinity - Guardian

A Tale of Two Masculinities - The New European

Quarter Life Crisis // Yolanda Mercy

This lyrical monologue documents the quarter-life crisis of its main character Alicia Adewale. It’s the crisis that comes about through that odd return to childhood forced on graduates and young people by unaffordable rents, casualisation and wealth inequality. The one of leaving home, achieving independence and then returning as though nothing has changed. This tension is at the heart of the performance, the comforting familiarity of being back in a parent’s house and slipping back into the childhood role that goes with it. Embracing unquestioning support, less as an alternative to independence as much as one of the only options available.

The performance is built out of teenage and twenty-something memories and reflections on nights out, with the changing lives of friends and potential new responsibilities looming into focus. And as much as Adewale, a young Londoner of Nigerian descent, measures herself against friends and their marriages, children and homes, she also compares her situation to the histories of parents and distant relatives. The age she is now the same age as her mother was when she had her. The same age as grandparents who left their homes for a better life, the same age as ancestors were elected king or stolen as slaves. Adults, independent and fully formed, with a strong sense of who they were, and yet she still relies on her mother for everything.

But what Quarter Life Crisis correctly implies is that this deferral of adulthood is not the fault of the young people it traps. The tabloid label of the ‘boomerang generation’ deemphasises the responsibilities of those gone before. The shift away from job security in favour of the gig economy, and the housing crisis that leaves flats unavailable and houses unattainable, was not initiated by Adewale’s generation. Nor was the wild variation between the pay of those at the top and those just starting out. The delay in independence is simply a consequence of late capitalism.

The state of the Young Person’s Railcard, something referenced throughout the performance, reveals this truth. The recently announced extensions, the 26 to 30-year-old ‘Young Workers’ card, continues to move the goalposts of achieving full adulthood past your twenties entirely. Absent from the conversation is the idea that the current economy is unsustainable, that in a situation where 30 years old requires a discount simply to travel to work it might be a deeper, more structural problem that needs addressing.

-       Lewis Church 

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Yolanda Mercy  - Quarter Life Crisis

Is the New 25-30 Railcard Just An Attempt to Distract?The Badger

Boomerang Children - Guardian

Lack of Choice and Moving Back HomeThe DeBrief

Young People’s Changing Routes to Independence (2002) – Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Keeping My Kidneys // Mindy Raf

Shows at the Fringe are often ABOUT a singular thing: there’s a show about grief, a show about virginity, a show about anxiety, a show about coming out. Perhaps it is a marketing or PR strategy which makes the show ABOUT a singular thing, as its makes it easier to digest and to sell tickets, or it reflects the kernel of an idea which started an artist’s journey on a particular work. If Mindy Raf used the death of her mother as a starting point for her storytelling/stand up set Keeping My Kidneys, her detours, her ramblings, her journeys down the rabbit hole demonstrate that this is anything but just a show about a singular thing.  Instead, Raf makes a bold case for understanding how we are always all of our identities, and how these identities intersect, inform, challenge and support each other in exciting ways.

Along Raf’s journey through self-discovery and self-love are pointed and important revelations about the challenging and absurd realities of the American healthcare system (and its inability to deal with multiple health needs in a holistic way), midwestern Jewishness and family, and marginalized sexual identities (with her reflections on polyamory and pansexuality). As the fight for recognition and equality for LGBTQI+ people internationally and in the UK continues, Raf highlights the continued discomfort for those who fall (or stay) out of the mainstream – with playful conversations about biphobia and normative monogamy which remind us of how far we have to go in terms of true self-determination and pride. Raf challenges the idea that when we are dealing with one issue, or fighting one fight, we are not still engaged in a multitude of questions, oppressions, desires and conflicts. This confluence of influence is what makes Keeping My Kidneys unique in its storytelling: Raf is completely resistant to this being a show ABOUT one thing. Take it all, or leave it all, excitingly Raf has faith in her audience (and perhaps the world in 2017) that they can handle the complex nature of reality. 

- Brian Lobel

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Keeping My Kidneys - Mindy Raf

Polyamory’s Cultural Moment - NPR 

Ongoing Healthcare Debate and the Anxiety It Causes - New York Times

Cannabis Lube

Deathbed Promises on Reddit

Lena Waithe on Master of None and Coming Out Over Time - Vulture

(500) Days of Stammer // Aidan Greene

The title is a pun on a romantic comedy film title, and it turns out this is because Aidan Greene loves rom-coms. So in his show, he presents a classic love story - the only difference being that this one is about a boy and his stammer. As Greene says, rom-coms are hopelessly formulaic: hero (usually but not necessarily a boy) meets the object of his affection (usually but not necessarily a girl), and the audience immediately knows they are in love. A lot of conflict happens, the hero loses the object of his affections, but they inevitably get back together after the hero makes a long and impassioned speech. You sense that last bit will be the hard part in this particular story - although (spoiler alert!) since his stammer is there on stage with him, we know the hero will get to be with the object of his affection at the end of this story as well.

Greene met his stammer aged four, and started speech therapy aged six. He says there are always a lot of speech therapists at his shows, and tonight is no exception - three in the front row. Stammering is a recognised disability in Ireland, where Greene is from, because of the profound impact it can have on people's lives. His stand-up set covers his overwhelming desire as a young man to fall in love and the many ways his stammer has got in the way.

The dramatic crisis comes when he begins to doubt that he is the hero of his own story. What if he's just somebody else's awkward and ill-fitting sidekick? He says that he tried to reject his stammer mentally at this point in his life, only to realise it was so much a part of his identity that it was impossible. In his head, he made a long and impassioned speech to persuade his stammer to come back to him, and in so doing, has come to love his stammer. Naturally this means he isn't 'cured' and never will be, but he stammers less now and finds it easier to acknowledge and even laugh about it. And his own ease with his stammer helps to relax the audience so that we can laugh along with him, too.

- Michael Regnier

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

(500) Days of Stammer - Aidan Greene

What Is Stammering? - Action for Stammering Children

What Is Speech and Language Therapy? - Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists

So You Want to Write... A Romantic Comedy - TV Tropes

How My Stutter Improves My Dating Life - Washington Post

An Oscar-Winning Short Film About Stuttering and Love - The New Yorker

Out // Rachael Young with Dwayne Antony

Rachael Young and Dwayne Antony choreograph their challenge to homophobia and transphobia in Caribbean communities through a stylised repetition of tasks and dance steps pushed to the limits of endurance. Their two bodies exist in relation, not only in the obvious moments of unison or canon, but in the instances of quiet as well, in the peeling of oranges and the unzipping of shoes. Two bodies, poised and beautiful, unapologetically black and queer. One of the most impactful moments of the performance features the voice of a pastor haranguing the ‘immorality’ of homosexuality and of trans identities, looped and warped to accompany a lean and bend, in and out of a strict band of light. The performers faces appear and recede, into light and out of sight into darkness. The hateful narrative of the soundtrack loses its legibility through its rhythmic hijack.

Out engages with the legacy of colonial laws that still permeate the legal systems of many Caribbean countries, buggery laws that foster and endorse a wider homophobia. The histories that affect cultural perceptions of sexuality involve the world, and the contemporary experience of individuals in diasporic communities echoes the legacy of varied oppression. Whilst Western societies congratulate themselves for increasing (but still not universal) tolerance, the impact of its role in the origination of these attitudes must be still acknowledged and reflected on.

The fierceness of the movement in Out, the physical conviction and relentless power reflects an often-unacknowledged strength in difference. It reflects the egregiousness of masculinist and cisnormative dialogues, and the fragility of cultural stereotypes. These different signifiers circle throughout, race and sexuality, bodies and power. Dancing in abandon to dancehall in the opening, a genre that became a musical byword for homophobia in the 1990s, the two performers assert their place in wider culture, the importance of their identities and an affirmation of their selves.  

-       Lewis Church

 

Links Relevant to this diagnosis:

Out - Rachael Young

LGBT Rights in JamaicaEqualdex

Being Black and Gay: The Illusion of InclusionThe Fact Site

 Being Black and LGBT in Britain (2016)Maroon News

Britain Can't Just Reverse the Homophobia It Exported - Guardian

Mobile / Paper Birds Theatre Company

Mobile / Paper Birds Theatre Company

Mobile marks the second installment of Paper Birds Theatre Company’s trilogy on social identity. Performed in a disused caravan before an audience of nine, the play aims to explore the emotional ambivalence caused by social mobility. After a brief, somewhat awkward ‘name game’ on deck chairs outside, the guests are invited in, offered biscuits and other hospitalities while our host gives us an overview of her situation. Her story is a familiar one: after the abrupt termination of a long term relationship, she finds herself without a flat to live in or a safety net to catch her. She is forced to return home. Perhaps in attempt to salvage some sense of progress, she shuns her mother’s actual home in preference for the caravan instead. 

MOBILE / Paper Birds Theatre Company

MOBILE / Paper Birds Theatre Company

Mobile marks the second installment of Paper Birds Theatre Company’s trilogy on social identity. Performed in a disused caravan before an audience of nine, the play aims to explore the emotional ambivalence caused by social mobility. After a brief, somewhat awkward ‘name game’ on deck chairs outside, the guests are invited in, offered biscuits and other hospitalities while our host gives us an overview of her situation. Her story is a familiar one: after the abrupt termination of a long term relationship, she finds herself without a flat to live in or a safety net to catch her. She is forced to return home. Perhaps in attempt to salvage some sense of progress, she shuns her mother’s actual home in preference for the caravan instead. 

A DREAM OF DYING / Fake Escape Theatre

A DREAM OF DYING / Fake Escape Theatre

Life is just a matter of appropriate planning. A good life is a well ordered life. The fullest life is the most neatly divided life. Birth, school (“with outstanding grades”), a lucrative job, a beautiful wife, a spacious suburban house, grinning suburban children, early retirement, grinning suburban grandchildren, a cheerful death and a well peopled funeral. It’s so simple, so simply broken down.

SHARP EDGES / Amelia Sweetland

SHARP EDGES / Amelia Sweetland

Sharp Edges (written and performed by Amelia Sweetland) is an intense exploration of female mental illness. Filmed sequences and voiceover showing Sophie at home are used to break up a series of sessions Sophie has with the therapist her GP sends her to when she complains of insomnia. Slowly, Sophie's past and Sophie herself start to unravel.

OSCAR / Vertebra Theatre

OSCAR / Vertebra Theatre

Two young queer girls meet in a nightclub and bond over a copy of Oscar Wilde's De Profundis. When tragedy interrupts their burgeoning romance, only Oscar can provide comfort. This new puppet and dance-based piece by Vertebra Theatre (makers of the acclaimed Dark Matter) explores “queer identities and first love” through “visual imageries, garbage film, devised text and dance.”

JOAN / Milk Presents

JOAN / Milk Presents

In ‘Mind, Modernity and Madness’, Liah Greenfeld writes that “A widely held idea (say, that hell awaits those who eat flesh on Fridays, or that all men are created equal) is no less a reality for people in the community holding the idea than the Atlantic Ocean”. Her bracingly forthright sociological study goes on to dismiss those who “diagnose entire cultures as psychotic...retroactively pronounce medieval saints schizophrenics”. 

BUBBLE SCHMEISIS / Nick Cassenbaum

BUBBLE SCHMEISIS / Nick Cassenbaum

Cultural identity is made out of little, everyday things, just as the character of a neighbourhood is made up of the everyday rather than the exceptional. The best sign of gentrification in London’s East End isn’t the Cereal Killer Café, but the slow closure of its greasy spoons and corner shops and their replacement with more Pret A Mangers. Nick Cassenbaum’s performance is about Jewish identity, and the self-care ritual of the Schvitz, an intergenerational steam bath that unfolds as a psychogeographic narrative of the Jewish East End. It has orbiting interests of personal, urban and cultural history, and through them questions the identities of individuals, groups and cities.

LIFTED / Triad Pictures

LIFTED / Triad Pictures

The recent terror attacks in France and Belgium, have assured that Islamophobia is on the rise but it’s Fife that proves the culture battleground for Lifted. Ikram Gilani plays drug dealing secular Scottish Muslim Anwar with humor and intensity and the small hot stage at theSpace @ Surgeons Hall makes the audience genuinely feel part of Anwar's interrogation by invisible forces at Glenrothes Police Station.

4D CINEMA / Mamoru Iriguchi

4D CINEMA / Mamoru Iriguchi

Mamoru Iriguchi’s moving planes of flat projection are a visual signature, a recurring technique constructed through a wacky series of contraptions that disguise their sophistication. In 4D Cinema the footage projected onto them are used to question time itself, the ability of a subject to define their own home and the biographic responsibilities of the performer and audience. The nature of memory is as much its subject as Marlene Dietrich, both in what the audience remember of themselves as they were fifty minutes younger, and in thoughts of how your memory will survive after death.

HIP / Kriya Arts

HIP / Kriya Arts

Hip is an hour drifting through the Jungian collective unconsciousness; during the performance, Jolie Booth explores the serendipity of finding uncanny parallels with past lives. Based around found objects, Hip is a semi-autobiographical one woman show that starts by introducing us to a location caught between two timelines and personalities: the home of Anne Clarke during 60s bohemian Brighton, and a squat established by Jolie in 2002.