Review: Conundrum, The Maria, Young Vic ★★☆☆☆

Paul Anthony Morris’s new play, the debut production by Young Vic associate company Crying in the Wilderness, is a conundrum in name and nature. The play follows Fidel, played with relentless energy by Anthony Ofoegbu, who is in the middle of a clear-out. Amidst discarding old bank statements and electricity bills, and keeping some, and poring over all job applications, each of which he has been rejected on the basis of being ‘over-qualified’, Fidel discovers a notebook of memories that ‘sets in motion a journey to self-acceptance’.

Anthony Ofoegbu. Photo: Marc Brenner

But while Fidel repeats ‘I know who I am’, it is not really clear to the audience who he is, or if he really does know the answer himself. And that is the conundrum – Morris’s writing suggests that we too should know who Fidel is. There are explicit references to racism, the recent lockdown and a suggestion of a mental health condition but there isn’t enough to join the dots to get a true picture of Fidel’s circumstances, while the series of vignettes and abstract movement pieces that make up the bulk of the play reveal little about the man.

There are further conundrums. ‘No more lofty ideas’ repeats Fidel, the words projected on the back wall of the theatre as the audience leave, but the play is overflowing with them. Maybe that’s the point but, again, Morris’s writing suggests otherwise.

Anthony Ofoegbu. Photo: Marc Brenner

Despite the content Ofoegbu delivers an engaging performance, though he does stretch to the realms of overacting at times – perhaps par for the course with an abstract piece. His head-worn microphone proves to be overly dramatic too, catching every breath, every saliva crackle and broadcasting them loudly. The intention may for us to feel fully engaged with Fidel but it is more likely to trigger misophonia at these levels.

By the end we have been with Fidel through childhood memories, a phyciatric ward, a counselling session, a spring clean and a lesson in human anatomy, all without learning very much at all. It feels very much that had Morris, who has written, directed and produced Conundrum, chosen a few of the better ideas here and eschewed the rest it would have made for a more coherent and engaging piece.

Conundrum is at The Maria at the Young Vic until 4 February