Rachel Ofori has a new translation for PC: politely condescending. Perhaps, her new show implies, we’ve become so worried about saying the wrong thing that instead we don’t say anything at all, simply letting structural prejudices remain intact and sweeping casual racism under the carpet. Instead of confronting inequality, authorities bring in “help” for those who feel the brunt of it. We’re all so good at pretending we’re equal when we’re not, accuses Ofori.
The title of Ofori’s solo show is Portrait, singular, but it offers multiple snapshots across its swift one-hour running time. The piece flickers between different identities, each revealing both black female stereotypes and the complicated individuals they conceal. Characters include an Oxbridge hopeful; an American preacher; a Ghanaian woman who soon finds Britain to be a land of disappointment rather than one of promise. Ofori flits rapidly from person to person, accent to accent, not once missing a beat. It’s one hell of a showcase for her evident acting talent.
But it could all feel a bit scattergun were it not for the anchoring voice of Candice: a fiercely intelligent teenage girl who brilliantly skewers the patronising forms of guidance drafted in for schoolkids from disadvantaged backgrounds. Questioning why she should get into thousands of pounds of debt for the sake of a flimsy degree certificate, Candice challenges everything her teachers throw at her. Channelling frustration into articulacy, her words offer a blistering indictment of British society and its short-sighted, inherently prejudiced institutions.
The word intersectional isn’t used once during Portrait, but it offers a straightforward, clear-eyed view of the different, overlapping structures of privilege and exclusion that shape our society. We get glimpses of the multiple different ways in which the government is fucking over young people, or of the many conflicting things that women are supposed to be all at the same time, or of the insidious racial stereotypes that still abound – all spoken in the voice of a young black woman. It isn’t hard to see how these various prejudices intersect.
It’s just a shame that not all of these portraits are as sharp as the image we get of Candice. Some of them feel more like thumbnail sketches, not yet fully drawn. Still, though, Ofori is raising vital points, cutting through both cultural stereotypes and political rhetoric. Together with Tar Baby and Labels, the fantastic solo pieces from Desiree Burch and Joe Sellman-Leava respectively, Portrait forms part of a complex conversation about race that has taken place across this year’s Fringe. And given where we are politically, with immigration right at the top of the agenda, those conversations are as urgent as ever. To anyone complaining about the lack of political work in Edinburgh this summer: look a little harder.