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Conundrum at the Young Vic – review

The Crying in the Wilderness production continues its run until 4 February

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Anthony Ofoegbu in Conundrum
© Marc Brenner

After a postponement due to the pandemic, Young Vic associate company Crying in the Wilderness present their debut production Conundrum in the Maria Studio at the Waterloo venue.

Billed as "an intimate tale of self-discovery, liberation and bliss" and both written and directed by Paul Anthony Morris, the show has us meet Fidel (Anthony Ofoegbu), a 40-something man 'decluttering' his life, sorting through old school certificates, diaries and numerous jobs rejection letters (all "overqualified"). These discoveries trigger his various memories, and we enter an exploration of the "discriminating hand of destiny", and the way in which the education system stereotypes people's achievements based on their race. For Fidel, the fact he is top of his class is not an achievement, but a standard expectation – no prizes or treats were given to him as a child for knowing more than the rest of his class. How, as adults, do we reconcile with that and find ourselves outside of these childhood expectations and restrictions?

The swift 75-minute show which, though containing a small cameo appearance from another actor (Filip Krenus), is ostensibly a solo piece, and unafraid of silence. There are long stretches of time where we hear Fidel simply breathing, twisting into and around himself as he moves across the stage (choreography by Shane Shambhu). Sean Cavanagh's set design has glowing white writing scribbled onto the floor and Fidel almost dances across it, and occasionally writes over the words with chalk. Dialogue is often repeated, such as the words he had to memorise as a child ("hypothalamus…trachea…").

Ofoegbu is an engaging performer, pulling us into Fidel's story from his entrance. He transitions to his younger self with ease, and attacks the heavier, louder moments with punch. There is a scene with violent (mimed) imagery which has most of the audience recoiling in their seats. An excellent performance which most definitely could have been a wholly solo one.

Though there is a plot – and at times it may be confusing – Conundrum is a piece which evokes more feeling – of trauma and uncertainty, yes, but also of that breakthrough moment of feeling free. Florian Bel's sound design and music aids these feelings with pulsing music alongside Jack Weir's crisp lighting design featuring a selection of black lamps hung from the ceiling.

This is a really thought-provoking and well-considered piece from Crying in the Wilderness, and it will be exciting to see what comes next for them.