Aisha (the black album); Putting a Face On review – more pointed monologues

Old Vic, London; available online
Jade Anouka sprints through American history, while all is calmly, inexorably revealed in Kiri Pritchard-McLean’s subtle play about gaslighting

The Old Vic has been acute with its monologues: not too musey, all pointed. Taken together, these two new pieces of writing, commissioned for International Women’s Day, last barely half an hour, but they deliver resonant stories. They are also a nudge towards the slowly changing face of theatre: at last it is being taken for granted that an authoritative voice, an everyman, may be a woman of colour.

Regina Taylor’s Aisha (the black album), directed by Tinuke Craig, is a sprint drawing on a long history. In jeans and leather jacket, Jade Anouka, one of the most fiery and dancing of actors, whips through horrific scenes of American life, from lynching to the storming of the Capitol, telling of “a systemic poisoning of marrow and mind”.

Kiri Pritchard-McLean’s production of her own Putting a Face On unwinds with subtlety. Susan Wokoma is making up her face – makeup is a good theatrical device as it is what the stage does. She chirrups about her new tiger-faced bathmat, which her boyfriend doesn’t like: “He’s right – it does look boss-eyed.” In a clever piece of self-reflection, she chats about a woman she has watched online discussing grisly murders while demonstrating makeup; she reports that her boyfriend has depression and thinks she is one of the causes. She may be applying concealer to her cheekbones, but slowly the truth of what is happening to her seeps out.

Susan Wokoma in Putting a Face On.
Susan Wokoma in Putting a Face On. Photograph: Manuel Harlan

At first, recognition is oblique: “It’s not like he hits me.” Then it is ignored by others. She tells her hairdresser she is being driven mad and is told: “You’ve got a very dry scalp.” The insidious power of gaslighting is conveyed the more accurately because it is revealed slowly, lightly, and because Wokoma’s matter-of-fact, calm performance makes it clear that her character is no easy target. When she escapes, it is with quiet exhilaration – and the boss-eyed bathmat.

Star ratings (out of five):
Aisha (the black album)
Putting a Face On ★★★★

  • Available to stream on the Old Vic’s YouTube channel until the end of March:

Watch Aisha (the black album).
Watch Putting a Face On.


Susannah Clapp

The GuardianTramp

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