Friday, 24 January 2020

THEATRE REVIEW: Oreo - HOME,. Manchester.


An Oreo is commonly known as a type of yummy chocolate biscuit. However, in tonight’s Contemporary Performance, part of Push 2020 Festival, it meant something very different. To paraphrase the programme: snacks like “Bounty Bar”, “Coconut”, or “Oreo” are racial micro-aggressions, sadly used by individuals who desire to disempower a black person who is considered to be “acting white”.

Devised and performed by Tania Camara, she used many Oreos and painted herself with Oreo-filling to explore the experiences of episodic racism within universities and the world of work. Camara challenged the notion of whitening her physical and inner self hoping to be successful in a climate of systemic racism. What do acts of racism do to a person? Whether they are wearing their public or private masks? Speeches could be heard from public figures like Dianne Abbot, the British MP and Joacine Katar Moreira, a politician from Portugal. Camara aimed to embody those public figures, playing on the “acting white” performance rule.

We never got to hear Camara speak about this topic, which was powerful in itself. Calling back to those horrific experiences where she felt silenced, belittled, and made speechless. Camara tried to speak into the microphone but it was a visible and audible struggle. This was a semi-autobiographical solo performance which after the traumas of the past asks you to drop the mask, show who you are, and not be afraid to be present and be seen.

The majority of costumes, food and props were black and white. It was a visual reminder of how on a day to day basis, black women feel the need to protect themselves to endure divided and antagonistic times. Camara’s costume in the improvised dancing finale, featuring her and fifty percent of the audience which got up on stage, was reflective of her culture and identity. This was emancipation and liberation from prejudice and hate in the safe space of the theatre and the arts. A beautiful moment shared with the audience and the performer.

I loved the Performance Art element which, typically of this style, broke down her actions and movement within the space to its slowest and simplest form. It was this component part of the production which presented the deteriorating impact hate speech has on someone. We witnessed the uncomfortable continuous manic laughter bordering on crying, how it’s difficult to put one foot in front of the other and keep living life, the unbearable and inwardly shaking stillness, as Camara lay down on the floor.

There was so much silence in this. I feel this device is often taken for granted. It was so effective as it drew your attention to every little detail and action on stage, combine that with the slow performance of symbolic movement and the result was captivating and thought provoking. Camara could have taken the approach to use words and speak about this topic but it was a far more powerful and clever to let the theatrical imagery and her presence in the space speak for itself.

Only some practical faults, excluding the historic footage, some of the projected film clips were not that high quality. In one interview, you could not see the full translated subtitles. Also, the beautifully messy Performance Art scene mid-way through could have been done more upstage. Then, for the dancing scene at the end there would have been more space for the audience and it would have been less of a slipping hazard.

The questionnaire on the back of the programme asked to summarise “Oreo” in three words so here is my summary: “Food for thought”.

Reviewer - Sam Lowe
on - 23/1/20

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