Fragments of a Complicated Mind (Theatre 503, until February 1st)
Artistic subversion should lead to societal revolution thanks to the provocative and anarchic Fragments of a Complicated Mind at Theatre 503.
Rage against how people perceive and respond to issues of black identity – a phrase the production might have problems with in itself – bursts out of Damilola DK Fashola’s series of visionary vignettes presenting the audience with no-nonsense challenge and a plea for understanding.
Rarely can a piece of theatre have tackled such a broad range of ideas around its central theme. This isn’t just a complaint about how white people are allowed to define black identity but also honestly recognises ways in which the black community has in many ways accepted and developed such definition.
It is never an easy ride: there is little by way of cohesive structure and the themes of each scene (such as “Glitch,” “Gameshow,” “Protest” and “Vaginas”) are struck off the back wall on which they are all written as the performance progresses. There is no plot to follow for this is the product of a complex mind, with a kaleidoscope of disconnected ideas examined and dissected by an animated cast of eight.
There is a running theme of language and awareness and the ease of misunderstanding in what should be, but is seldom, a multicultural society: “Being black is more than a hashtag” says one performer as the role of social media is unpicked, while another announces, “The sweetest taste I ever felt was colourless.”
Many of the hard-hitting quickfire scenes are discomforting and demand serious thought, while others are incredibly funny. All nail their points home firmly and while it is understandable that different sections of the audience will identify with and take away very different messages there are relevant questions for all to ponder.
Fashola appears as well as directs and we get her passion without a shred of breathing space. This vigorous multilayered production uses monologues, witty humour, poetry, dance, physical theatre and carefully choreographed movement for its important storytelling and the energy is infectious and unflagging.
The plain black set with white chairs may seem too obvious yet it works well, as the burgundy clad performers move around it. The sound and lighting adds extra layers of intensity with few moments of silence or stillness in the bubbling cauldron.
It is a true ensemble piece as ideas and possibly random thoughts are gathered and stirred together. Joining Fashola are Effie Ansah, Lily-Fleur Bradbury, Michelle D’Costa, Jasmeen James, Antonia Layiwola, Luke Elliott and Luke Wilson.
There are some very funny lines and situations, but one section which particularly seems to resonate with the audience stems from the reflection on living in the capital. “What is it about London that brings out the tone of my skin?” wonders one performer. “It’s a multi-cultural city that doesn’t stand for tolerance.”
It is this uncompromising stance that makes the performance so meaningful and apposite and one suspects each evening could bring a different shade to the questions of colour, subtle shifts of emphasis leading to refreshed expression.
Why the production works so well is that is limited by nothing as it seeks to make the point that we are not black or white but human. Art, politics, religion, celebrity, ancestry, image and justice are among the issues put under the microscope and even though no answers are provided to the questions raised there is ultimately a demand for the audience to go away, chew it all over and help to bring the stereotypical status quo crashing down.
A version of this review originally appeared on The Spy in the Stalls http://www.thespyinthestalls.com/