‘Bronx Gothic’ review

Theatre, Experimental
4 out of 5 stars
Bronx Gothic, Young Vic, Okwui Okpokwasili
© Ian Douglas

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Hallucinatory and intense solo show from US dancer Okwui Okpokwasili

Okwui Okpokwasili’s strange, eerie solo show is almost impossible to categorise, though I guess you’re on pretty safe ground characterising the first 15 minutes or so as dance. Facing resolutely away from us, the towering, angular American performs a sort of haunted twerk: her moves clearly owe a lot to the booty-shaking dance, but they’re devoid of the sex, the bounce, the party. When we walk in, she’s there already, jerking to a two-note organ riff, a twitchy, rhythmic shiver that owes as much to horror films as to clubs. Eventually pounding, processed beats join the fray, then field recordings of what sounds like a playground kick in, under an aqueous electronic drone (the music is by the show’s director, Peter Born). It is loud and visceral and overwhelming and quite magical; it’s fairly obvious why Okpokwasili couldn’t keep it up for an hour and 20 minutes, but it is sad that it has to end.

The rest of ‘Bronx Gothic’ is an abrupt formal shift, as the hitherto silent Okpokwasili picks up some crumpled wodges of paper off the floor that purport to be pages of her old diary. The show that follows consists largely of exchanges between a high-pitched, naive, prepubescent girl and a growling, worldly sexualised pubescent one.
It’s not clear which Okpokwasili is supposed to be, though I’d guess she is both. They talk about periods and boys, they fool around with each other. The light-voiced girl tells the heavy-voiced girl how to control the world through her dreams. It is strange and dreamlike – urban girlhood and the liminality of puberty given a magical realist reimagining. It is also funny; towards the end Okpokwasili reads out a furiously intense letter in which the heavy-voiced girl excoriates her friend in the vilest terms imaginable for, as it turns out, not letting her play with her skipping rope. Although there is no sustained dancing again, Okpokwasili’s borderline magical physicality makes for awesome punctuation: at one point she suddenly drops to the floor as if poleaxed, cracking her limbs like a one-woman percussion kit.
When it ends, it ends abruptly, without real conclusion. In fact, there is a long pause before the audience work out that it’s finished, that this strange dreaming is over. Like dreams, ‘Bronx Gothic’ isn’t always decipherable, but blurred, bloody fragments of it linger long after it has ended. 

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