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Intro by Maddy Costa: One of the joys of working on NTiYN has been encountering other people not only keen to write about theatre but doing so in voices that are thoughtful, vivid and distinct. On a trip to Colchester last week for the second After Show Party – Colchester’s brilliantly named take on the Theatre Club – I met Olivia Corbin-Phillip, a drama student at University of Essex who keeps her own blog, stagenstyle, covering theatre, fashion, travel and more. Olivia’s blog is lovely: she writes with care about what she sees, taking the time to consider why she responds the way she does to each show, rooting her opinions in description of the text and staging and also her personal experience. Her voice is bubbly, conversational and enthusiastic, but earnest, too: when she feels less enamoured of a show, her tone is full of respect.

In a piece posted last month, she confessed that she finds reviewing tricky, noting: “how hard it is to write about a performance in a way that highlights both the positives and the negatives without sounding like you don’t really have any opinion at all”. She also argued that writing reviews doesn’t make her special or her opinions any more important than anyone else’s: “I would love for everyone to take the time out after visiting the theatre to write down their thoughts on everything from the acting to the issues raised.” Three cheers to that.

Below I’ve pasted her review of the Fuel show Portrait, a scintillating set of reflections on being young, female and black written and performed by Racheal Ofori. I’m looking forward to keeping up with Olivia’s theatre adventures in Colchester: she seems to me someone who’s in this reviewing lark for the long haul.

By Olivia Corbin-Phillip

While at the Edinburgh Fringe this year I must have been handed hundreds of flyers. One of these was most probably for Fuel Theatre’s latest production, but amid the craziness of the Fringe it wasn’t something I ever came across directly and so I missed my chance to see it. That was until I saw it advertised at our very own campus, at the Lakeside Theatre. I have never been so glad I dragged myself to the theatre (it was one of those days) than I was tonight.

Although I tend to enjoy one-person shows, I’m always anxious to watch them. I mean, what if something goes wrong or it’s really bad and there is nobody to save them and help them pick it back up again? It’s every actor’s worst nightmare and I can’t help but think that when I go to see a one-person show. However when the lights went up on the first character of the night I knew that wasn’t going to be a problem.

In a 60-minute whirlwind Ofori managed to cover a range of issues from nightclub politics to university fees by presenting a catalogue of characters to whom we can all relate and have probably all met at some point in our lives. That was what was so great about the show, we were reminded that there is far more to us than the media stereotypes, and even if we do happen to ‘tick a box’ we each have a voice and, more importantly, a story to tell. Ofori gave them that voice and they were heard loud and clear. Transitions to and from each character were slick and effortless, with a basic set and limited costume, the world of each new personality was brought to life with simple lighting alterations or props. I think one of the main things I brought from this production was how unnecessary all the extra stuff can be if the words you’re saying actually mean something and come from somewhere real. In this case, the script was so flawless that there didn’t need to be any extreme decoration or embellishment, all that was needed was for each character’s story to be heard.

I laughed uncontrollably for a large part of the show, I was definitely caught off guard with the range of humour and the sassy characters that drew on definite similarities with my 18-year-old self. I went from nodding my head in agreement with the endless words of wisdom that were spouting from the school girl’s mouth to shaking my head in disappointment at the unfortunate truth in the idea of spending my life paying off my student loan. We heard of a woman doing the ‘walk of shame’ without being shameful, and it was awesome! Portrait concentrated on the positive within each story and didn’t allow the narrative to be bogged down by unattainable ideals. Instead the director (Katie Hewitt) pushed the importance of where these characters would end up, and what they gained from each experience rather than what the statistics say would happen. What is to one person a statistic, to another it is a reality.

It’s an immense job to talk about issues of race, politics, gender and identity without sounding preachy but somehow Ofori managed to voice what I know most people my age are dying to say, perfectly:

“I’m fed up, I have a voice and I want to use it.”

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