Identity Crisis at The Ovalhouse

After my review of Custody a couple of weeks ago I was left wondering what else The Ovalhouse had to offer with it’s current season.  Thankfully Identity Crisis, written and performed by Phina Oruche, blew all my expectations out of the water with her fantastic performance.

I use to work in theatre and it was a running joke that it a warning sign of when a show was going to be bad was if it was written, directed and performed by the same person.  Especially if it was a one person show as it just screamed ‘vanity project’’  This is one show however, where this certainly wasn’t the case.

Phina is a model and actress, best known for her work with Chanel and the Gap,  but if you’re British you might recognise her from Hollyoaks or Footballer’s Wives .  As someone who rarely watches terrestrial TV and has never had an interest in fashion this could easily have been a story that dis-interested me, as she told the story of her life, with it’s many ups and downs.  However this wasn’t the case, Phina has a charm, stage presence and charisma that really draws you into her story, and her fascinating life.  

The story told here is a fairly simple one, do you really know who you are?  It is an exploratory piece as well as being largely autobiographical.  She takes the audience through her career and personal life, from success to heartbreak and true tragedy, till she ends up being the person she is today.  She tackles the question of how the media portrays not just her, but also people of colour.  As a black model she was often told she was brave for having natural hair, or made to pose for editorials that were later covered over with the words ‘African’.  She talks about her internal battles with this and how she dealt with it as a young professional in a way that is testament to her abilities as a storyteller.  She questions if you can truly know yourself under the media gaze, and the danger of holding your image purely as seen in the eyes of others.  

Phina’s acting prowse really shines in this performance, she plays a multitude of characters with great definition, both in speech and physicality, and makes it look as easy as if you were just chatting to her one on one.  Her sense of timing and pacing of speech is so natural you sometimes forget that this isn’t the case, especially as she will stop the flow of her performance to reach out and involve an audience member, always welcoming people into her inner circle.  It feels like an honest conversation with a friend.  It feels almost improvised and is flexible in a way that people only really comfortable with their own work can do.  There are moments when she spoke about the open racism she has received in the arts industry that are genuinely shocking, but she can make you laugh out loud at the same time.  

The multimedia aspect added much to the performance, although some of the lighting changes seemed a abrupt or mistimed.  In the second half of the show the narrative unfortunately gets a bit lost and confused.  The characters and story jump around, and it felt as though something was left out that allowed it to fully make sense, making it hard to follow at times.  

This honest, heart felt show is one that shouldn’t be missed.  Catch is at The Ovalhouse until the 13th of May.  


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