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Review: Portrait @ The Edinburgh Fringe

This review was originally written for EdFringeReview.com

Portrait, a new piece of theatre devised and performed by Racheal Ofori, is an energetic one-woman show that clearly contains a powerful, pertinent and personal message. Yet it falls marginally short of being a truly impactful production due to its lack of originality and the inadvisable weighting of certain character above others.

Claiming to present ‘a frank, fun and provocative look at the trials and tribulations of modern life as seen through the eyes of a young black woman’, Portrait presents what is essentially a series of monologues, speeches, and poems in the guise of a variety of characters – an underprivileged high-schooler from London, an over-privileged Oxbridge applicant, a righteous American preacher, a Ghanaian migrant, and more.

The audience is intended to reflect upon its own preconceptions and stereotypes as these character’s storylines develop, but in reality, this effect is somewhat nullified by the fact that only one character’s story seems to progress in any meaningful sense, and even then, there is an element of cliché to her development; Candice, a teenager lifted straight out of Michelle Pfeiffer’s classroom in Dangerous Minds and plonked in a South London estate, is undergoing counselling and, as the show progresses, slowly succeeds in channelling her anger into positive action, managing to write some poetry along the way.

Of other characters, we catch only glimpses. The Oxbridge applicant, pushed on to academia by demanding parents and neurotically anxious about her chances of success, is left regrettably unexplored. Likewise, a Ghanaian woman arriving in London in search of a better education, is only revealed to us twice. These characters are interesting and thought-provoking, and it is a shame that the intellectual challenges they pose to the audience are fleeting and surface-deep.

Make no mistake, this is a stellar performance from a talented actor. Ofori has taken her own life experiences, combined them with perceptive observations, and, with the help of director Kate Hewitt, formed them into a vibrant, exhilarating hour-long show that comes from a deeply personal place. Her frequent bouts of fast-paced, punchy poetry are brilliantly constructed; her characterisation is strong – her command of accents is particularly impressive; and her dancing is rhythmic and enjoyable.

This is an engaging piece of theatre. Ofori’s writing is realistic, humourous, and sharp. Her performance is honed, professional and slick. But Portrait is perhaps not as genuinely stimulating, nor as relevant to Fringe audiences, as it outwardly seems to be. The audience is entertained, but not changed.

3/5

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