Racheal Ofori’s Portrait: an Exploration of Female Stereotypes
Camden People’s Theatre launched its third year of Calm Down, Dear feminist festival this month, answering cries of “What shall we do tonight?” for feminists all over London. One of its star plays was ‘Portrait’, a one-woman show written and performed by Racheal Ofori and directed by Kate Hewitt. I was lucky enough to catch it.
‘Portrait’ is inspired by Ofori’s own experiences, exploring and fighting the cultural stereotypes surrounding women. Ofori combines forms such as prose, poetry, music and dance to represent a range of black female voices and to analyse the way stereotypes come into play when we regard topics like body image, religion, class and sex. Fast-paced, energetic and very funny (sample line: “I know it’s said that money doesn’t buy happiness, but I’d rather cry in a Porsche than at the bus stop”), Ofori moves with startling speed from one character to the next, shifting accent and body language in the time it takes for a light to flash on and off. Her experience as a Shakespearean actor is obvious and shines in a play so focused on monologues. Ofori’s stand-out character, Candice, a cynical 16 year old girl from London, speaks in rhyming couplets which become more complex as the play goes on. It showcases Ofori’s acting skills but it also shows how much we judge a person by their accent, how this can change the way the world sees us and, in turn, how it treats us. That’s the thing with the range of accents and voices showcased - it’s no gimmick. Ofori understands the power that an RP accent can have over an MLE accent (that’s Multicultural London English accent to me and you, winning the award for vaguest name ever) and shows us how class intersects with race when it comes to to our voices.
Ofori’s use of dance and movement also demonstrates how the way we navigate the world physically affects the stereotypes used against us. One of her characters, a woman with swinging hips and a twerking ability that shows Miley the door, talks about being aware of her desirability while also planning her journey to England, to become a professor. Later, we hear how the other students perceive her once in the UK: “They call me ‘fresh’, as in ‘fresh off the boat’”. The topic of immigration is also touched upon with another character; Candice’s counterpart, an 18 year old Oxbridge hopeful, is cracking under the pressure she’s under as a child of immigrants. Trying to conform to the the limited view of success her parents have, her love of art is her only act of rebellion. All of the women we watch seem real - one 27 year old tries online dating for the first time, an American pastor delivers a hard yet poetic sermon and another worries about having no curves in a culture which prizes the hourglass woman.
‘Portrait’ is a show which doesn’t bore for a second; it’s a perfect piece of entertainment that makes us laugh even as we question issues which dramatically affect the lives of women. Racheal Ofori is incredibly talented, and there are few people who could’ve written and performed this with such aplomb - I highly recommend you catch ‘Portrait’ while you can.
You can watch the trailer for ‘Portrait’ here: