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Theatre review: Bronx Gothic

Powerful: Okwui Okpokwasili’s performance tells of the savage legacy of sexual and racial abuse PICTURE: HELEN MURRAY


Bronx Gothic

Young Vic, London ★★★★☆

IF YOU’VE ever wondered what a 20-minute orgasm might look like then the first third of this startling one-woman piece could give you some idea. Okwui Okpokwasili stands in a corner with her back to the audience and writhes about against a soundtrack of distorted techno and urban domestic chatter for what feels like an interminable time. It’s not much fun, nor is it meant to be and it sets the provocative, combative tone of this fictionalised memory piece about the anguished interior landscape of an 11-year-old girl in which sex is presented as a form of violence.

When Okpokwasili does speak, she reads from letters exchanged by two 11-year-old girls in the Bronx, one way more sexually experienced than the other. A picture emerges of a child with knowledge beyond her years, of the predatory presence of her mother’s boyfriend, of the Proustian power of specific scents: cigarette smoke, Vaseline intensive care lotion. There are more jaggedly dreamlike confessions that tap into the distorted relationship between race, racism, beauty and self perception. Amid flashes of mordant humour there is the indelible impression of something, somewhere, being deeply wrong.

It is demanding precisely because it dares you to look away — there were several walkouts the night I saw it. But it also feels like a story of our times, of the vulnerability of childhood bodies and the savage, deep legacy of sexual and racial abuse. No, it’s not pretty, but really, that’s precisely the point.