Identity Crisis review at Ovalhouse, London – ‘ambitious but unfocused’
Phina Oruche strides on stage in a sleek black jumpsuit. She’s reliving the terrible aftermath of her niece’s death, who died of a sudden brain aneurysm aged 19.
A well-meaning policewoman compliments Oruche on her silky hair – she rips it off. It’s a wig, and it slides across the stage floor and into the shadows. This act of rebellion and triumph could be a symbol for Oruche’s energetic one-woman production: part autobiography and part revisionist personal history, it plays out on spartan stage populated by several umbrellas, two chairs, and dozens of glossy projections of Oruche's life in fashion on a screen behind her.
Oruche plays nine different characters, from her sharp Nigerian mother to her Scouser best friend with a fake tan, and tackles everything from #OscarsSoWhite to typecasting to the natural hair movement.
It’s an ambitious but unfocused solo show, and while a confiding, likeable Oruche tries to mine her life for material – and there’s plenty of it – she constantly runs the risk of going on rambling rants or skittering from one snappy anecdote or character to the next, leaving us without much of an emotional anchor.
And it’s a pity, because as a model, actress, writer and radio presenter who’s relied so heavily on the cultivation of a specific image to get where she is, it feels like she has more to offer than anecdotes and complaints about the media industry and its engagement with race.
There’s little in the way of excavation here, though there’s plenty of dishing the dirt.