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BWW Review: CONUNDRUM, Young Vic

Crying in The Wilderness, associated company of the Young Vic, debut with a play crowded with paramount themes that never get the development they deserve.

BWW Review: CONUNDRUM, Young Vic

BWW Review: CONUNDRUM, Young Vic

"I know who I am", Fidel's mantra echoes throughout Paul Anthony Morris's play. But he doesn't. Nor does the play itself. Conundrum is crowded with paramount themes that never get the development they deserve. It's about memories, identity, and racism. But it's also about unlearning societal dogmas and healing your inner child, if you know where to look. And about how parents relate to their children, and about trauma and confidence. Unfortunately, they're all throwaways.

The debut play of Crying in The Wilderness, associated company of the Young Vic, tries too much and not enough at the same time. Anthony Ofoegbu plays our main character, directed by Morris himself according to a theatrical practice named "Theatre of the Soul" by the company itself. What hides behind quite the name is a mix of straight and physical theatre. Every huff, puff, and rustling of paper is exasperated by a headworn microphone, heightening the already overacted performance.

Intuitive writing gives space to a few somewhat unintelligible movement-led scenes; with the latter only starting to make sense by the end of it. The project has quite a few issues. Running at a mere 75 minutes, it still feels too long and redundant. "Show, don't tell" might be one of the golden rules, but Conundrum doesn't do either, opting to run in circles saying that racism hinders lives - which is already a known truth.

A proud man, it hasn't only been society that stifled Fidel's dreams and ambitions. His mother played a role in it too, unable to cope with having a genius as a child. After being read the rejection letters that blame his being overqualified for the roles, we're brought back to his school years, lived in the shadows of other pupils at the expense of his intelligence and brilliance. Out of the blue and unsubstantiated, we're also shown his clinging onto his perceived identity while being treated for his mental health.

The movement pieces interspersed throughout feel symbolic. We just don't really understand what they symbolise. His childhood diary leads to the discovery of another memory and his subsequent breakthrough during a therapy session, which is perhaps the best moment of the show both in script and delivery.

The writing is simple and accessible, but would work better if the spotlight was focused on it instead of on the attempt at a performance art piece. As a whole, Conundrum is a bit baffling. The exploration of race and racism is rather basic and self-evident. All along, Morris's rhetoric is faultless and all his reflections on racism are too, so it's a shame that the structure and analysis of the problem are troubled.

Conundrum runs at the Young Vic until 4 February.

Photo credit: Marc Brenner

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