Conundrum at the Young Vic
Conundrum takes place in the Maria, the Young Vic’s boxy studio, which turns out to be a perfect location for this intense piece of physical theatre. Its washed-out walls and exposed lighting hems in the audience to the psycho-inertia that writer/director Paul Anthony Morris will drag them into for 75 harrowing, rewarding minutes.
Anthony Ofoegbu is sensational as Fidel, who takes the audience on a dark vision quest through his own psyche after being sent into a meditative state by the prospect of doing his taxes. For all the tags of genius that his mother thrust on him as a child, Fidel has spent a life pushed down by authority figures, from the teachers who tell him not to get ideas above his station to careless mental health workers who force medication down his throat with barely a word. Ofoegbu performs the repetitions of learning and recitation, scrawling words like “oesophagus” and “encyclopedia” on the ground in chalk, telling us their meaning again and again. But it’s a method of societal control for Fidel, who shrinks into the corners of his own mind.
Occasionally, the play will speak aloud the ideas that circulate Ofoegbu’s expressive performance. Do we need Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man to be mentioned by name to understand that this is a piece about trauma and double consciousness? More effective is when Fidel’s mental state pushes him to repeat the words, “I can’t breathe,” which associates the play with the killing of Eric Garner by New York Police in 2014 (and, more recently, George Floyd), putting Conundrum into the specific lineage of the struggle for black freedom.
Ofoegbu isn’t always alone, and it’s to the play’s detriment. When another actor steps onto the stage, it is sucked of its energy. Ofoegbu is so powerful alone, a dancer without a dancer’s body, utterly committed and versatile, he is visibly moved by the piece at curtain call. Utterly effective and exemplary theatremaking.
Photos: Mark Brenner
Conundrum is at the Young Vic from 20th January until 4th February 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.