This intense one-man show from Young Vic associate company Crying in the Wilderness Productions follows Fidel, a Black British man on the cusp of old age who is looking back on his life, perhaps to piece together exactly why it didn’t work out as he’d hoped.
Writer-director Paul Anthony Morris’s show tends to be implicit rather than explicit, and drip drips out snatches of information on Fidel’s life. At the start, he’s looking through his old files and comes across a series of job rejection letters from the ’90s. They’re all for junior medical admin-type roles, and each time he has been turned down on grounds of being overqualified.
Rewinding further, deeper into Fidel’s memories, we discover that he was some sort of childhood prodigy, but that despite his obvious cleverness, his brilliance appears to have been discouraged, presumably by his teachers, who we might assume to be white, or at least, of a mindset that black boys shouldn’t get big ideas about their futures.
We never find out exactly what happened: if Fidel was deemed overqualified for jobs then he must have obtained qualifications, a period in his life we never learn about. But things clearly went off the rails for him, and a harrowing, physically intense section shows him a paranoid mess, refusing to take his medication at a psychiatric institution.
The details of the narrative remain elusive: it would appear Fidel attributes his difficulties to the hostility of a society that didn’t expect him to do well. But the final stretch of the play seems to strongly suggest that his overbearing mother was the cause of at least some of it, and he’d forgotten.
The writing is a bit faintly sketched – it’s fine being impressionistic, but I’m not sure if slightly sharper definition to the narrative would have changed the show’s essence. But there’s no denying the story told by Anthony Ofoegbu’s astonishingly full-blooded performance, which sees him travel through the emotional gears, from affable blokiness to agonised screaming mess. The weight of the fear and shame pushing down on him is palpable, and beautifully underscored by Sean Cavanagh’s set: a huge black mat covered in chalk-scribbled phrases from his old journals. ‘Conundrum’ lacks some clarity, but certainly not force.