Sunday, 28 March 2021

Review: Dear People of No Colour (Abbey Theatre/Esosa Ighodaro)

HOME, Manchester

In this post, I’m going to be returning to my blog and radio reviews of the Homemakers series of commissions from Home, Manchester, a programme of digitally-accessible creative content that can be enjoyed from the comfort of your own home. This post is a review of Dear People of No Colour by Esosa Ighodaro. The radio version of this review went out on Saturday’s on Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM, but here’s the blog version…

For this review, I’m returning to the Homemakers at HOME series. You may remember that I reviewed a few of the pieces on offer last year. It’s a series of short theatre, comedy, music and other performance pieces commissioned by HOME Manchester, and available to watch via their website. The pieces were all commissioned and made during lockdown, for most of which HOME has sadly had to remain closed to audiences. In the last couple of weeks, as HOME prepares (with fingers tightly crossed I imagine) to reopen once again, they announced a further two pieces in the series, which are also currently available on the website.

Last year on the blog, I reviewed three of the Homemakers commissions: A Small Gathering, ABC (Anything But Covid) and Turkey Sausage Roll. Today, I’m going to be talking about one of the newest pieces to be released: Dear People of No Colour, a short film written and performed by Esosa Ighodaro.

Dear People of No Colour is a short piece – it runs at just seven minutes – but it’s a thought-provoking one. It begins with Ighodaro, standing in front of a painting, performing vocal warm-up exercises (like Red Leather, Yellow Leather). We then cut to Ighodaro dressed glamorously in a gold dress and make-up, but standing in a rather ordinary kitchen. As she explains, she should be getting ready to perform in a role she can get her teeth into, but coronavirus has put paid to that and now she has to stay at home.

That’s a very broad-brush summary, and I’m not going to say a lot more about the details of Ighodaro’s performance piece, as it would be very easy to dissect it completely and take away all your enjoyment of watching it!

What I will say, though, is that, although the monologue begins by examining the internal life of the creative – who might be feeling grateful for only having Imposter Syndrome and not COVID-19 – Ighodaro springboards from that to a consideration of identity and of humanity (and, conversely, of inhumanity). She describes the times we currently find ourselves in as ‘strange and inhuman’, but states that this has meant she gets ‘to be at last human’. This is a performance about connections lost and connections found, but also about the connections that are sometimes (for both human and inhuman reasons) resisted and denied.

Ighodaro’s consideration of race and identity – of what it means to her to be a black woman – I have no doubt will strike a chord with many. She speaks to experiences that many women in the UK will recognize from their own experience. And though some of us (and I include myself here, as a white woman) will not have personally experienced what is being described, I hope we will recognize them from actually listening in solidarity to what other women have told us (I hope that’s the case… maybe that’s misplaced hope… I don’t know).

Ighodaro’s performance throughout Dear People of No Colour is beautiful. And I really think that is the right word, as this simply is a pleasurable and charismatic vocal performance. To be honest, I thought that when she began with the warm-up exercises, and it was no surprise to learn afterwards that Ighodaro is a vocalist as well as a writer and actor.

But while the skilful performance gives Dear People of No Colour an enjoyable charm, and the opening part of the monologue offers a relatable (for many) description of where things are at, the really striking part of the performance comes from the development and conclusion of Ighodaro’s exploration.

I don’t want to say too much about where she takes the idea of ‘being at last a human’ in the ‘strange and inhuman times’, but it is a – that word again – thought-provoking assessment, and one that offers a message of tentative hope.

And I think it’s this that makes me instinctively want to look back at some of the earlier pieces in the Homemakers series, particularly A Small Gathering and ABC (Anything But Covid). Which I did, by the way. I rewatched those two performances (which I thoroughly enjoyed when I reviewed them last year) immediately after I finished watching Dear People of No Colour, and… well… that provoked even more thoughts.

I don’t know for certain that Dear People of No Colour was written in 2021, but it certainly feels like a 2021 piece. Is that a strange thing to say? A Small Gathering and ABC (Anything But Covid) are – what I think we can now recognize as – quintessentially 2020. Specifically, they are both immediate – and surreal and manic and occasionally terrifying and grotesque – responses to the early days of Lockdown 1. It’s almost unsettling to watch them back now, and to remember what that heightened state felt like, and then to remember that it was only one year ago.

Dear People of No Colour, however, is not (or at least doesn’t feel like) a response to the beginning of the Time of Corona. It’s much more meditative, more contemplative, eschewing frenzy and angst in favour of quiet anger, loss and (once again, tentative) hope. Compare the final sequence of Dear People of No Colour to that of ABC (Anything But Covid) – and no spoilers here for either of them! – and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

Or consider the part of Ighodaro’s monologue that’s film in a kitchen. With her gold sequinned dress and ‘going out’ hair and make-up, I was reminded quite strongly of Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Kitchen Discos last year (remember them?). That kind of frenetic ‘Stay Home, we’ll get through this, we’re all in it together, let’s all dance!’ energy that we all attempted (pretended?) to have. But for all her disco glamour, Ighodaro is perfectly still here (if anything, there is more emotional force in the sections filmed in a garden – ironically the place we were all told we could go to find our calm last year), as though the fever is spent and it’s time to reflect.

I hope – and I really mean this – that we will be able to look on Dear People of No Colour as a reflection on the final weeks of the final lockdown. But it’s not simply that I share the hope expressed in the final words of the piece (though I do). The piece also says something quite powerful about the way lockdown has caused many of us to shift from that whirling dervish energy of banana bread, Joe Wicks and Kitchen Discos last year to a more introspective frame of mind.

What have we learnt in a year of living with corona? That, ultimately, is what Ighodaro is asking us to consider in this thoughtful and powerful performance.

Dear People of No Colour by Esosa Ighodaro is available to watch now at HOME Manchester, part of the Homemakers at HOME series. For more information, or to watch the film, visit the HOME website.

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