The pulsating rhythms of techno beats fill the air as a tall slim figure in a halterneck dress occupies the corner of the stage. It’s ten minutes from the start of Bronx Gothic and Okwui Okpokwasili has been doing some sort of warm-up routine for the past five minutes. Surrounded by a scattering of table lamps and flowers, her mild shiver morphs into a mighty body quake – hips snaking, limbs extending in all directions. She goes, and she goes, and she goes until what we see is no longer a sequence of random indecipherable movements. She’s trying to show us who she is, what she is. Is she a tennis player? Is she performing a tribal dance? Is she a fighter? Whatever she is, she’s got somewhere to go. She’s not just moving, she’s moving away from something. Her back is to the audience and she is running. Running, and jumping over imaginary walls, dodging invisible people, ducking under trees that aren’t there. Running.
Fifteen minutes later and she’s still running. Twenty minutes later and she’s still running. Sweat patches darken her dress now; sweat beads fall down her bare back. Thirty minutes. She’s still going. Thirty-five minutes. She’s still going. Back to a mild shiver now. She’s breathless. At last she turns to face the audience, to survey them – one by one, in slow motion. As she takes in the audience so we take her in, too. She looks like a work of art – cheekbones high, jawline sharp, hair styled into perfect rows of chiney bumps. More sweat drenches her hairline and drips down her face. Okpokwasili arrives centrestage, stops, takes a deep breath and asks a question: what’s an orgasm?
There follows more questions; why are you sucking his dick?, and statements; come is a verb and a noun, and advice for a successful relationship; when you suck a man’s dick, he’ll never leave you. She’s reading from letters she started writing to a confidant, aged 11. It’s not all about sex – there’s stories about dreaming of being Alexis Carrington from Dynasty, or bathing in ice cream – but a lot of it is. Mostly, it’s about growing up in a world that’s too big perhaps it’s the wrong shape – a shape you’ll never fit into because you’re the wrong race, or your titties are too small or your pubic hair is too big. Because you’re ugly. Because you wanna find yourself and you’re scared you might never do that. Because you might never learn what you’re supposed to do with all these emotions. It’s about everything and nothing and how you fight about both those things with friends, and with enemies. It’s about Okpokwasili, it’s about me. It’s about you.
Bronx Gothic is on at Young Vic theatre until 29th June. More info and tickets here.