I had to write this show. I really had to.The current racial climate terrifies me as a mum raising my beautiful black boy. People love him now when he’s cute and eight, but at 18 will they be afraid? Might they kill him? Perhaps a US law officer with a gun or another British boy with a knife, who shares his skin colour but not his postcode.
Questions of identity and belonging are at the root of so many of social problems, especially as the UK struggles with its collective identity post-Brexit.
Such issues have been present all my life. Not surprising when you see my 10-second resume: Phina Oruche is a middle aged Scouser of Nigerian descent who modelled in New York, starred as a coke-sniffing bisexual in Footballers’ Wives, had a talk show and an opinion column, then left showbiz to start a family and go to university for an MA. Oh, and she’s a committed Christian. Yikes!
Now I’m picking my career back up and have a hunger to be on stage poking these identity issues with a sharp comedy stick. This year I’m taking my show Identity Crisis to the Edinburgh Fringe to do just that.
It’s an empowering show where I take control of my narrative to prove that we can all play far more parts than we are currently allowed to. No roles should be out of bounds because of who you are, least of all black or female. So I’m playing nine different comic characters – black, white, young, old, male, female. I enjoy making fun of stereotypes. I have seen, and been the focus of, quite a few as a model and an actor – the only thing that fashion photographers ever seemed to think of doing with me was to get my clothes off, cover me with oil and slap an afro wig on my head.
I also love to defy the baggage that has attached to me as a result of race, class, gender, and age. Among my characters are Amy Tan, a working class white girl with a Scouse brow and a taste for spray tans and black boys; Antonio deSilva, a football crazy Italian living in LA who misses his mum; Mary, Middle Class, widowed in her 50s, who picks up men at funerals; Rasta, mixed race, dreadlocked, Liverpool born and bred but talks like a Yardie and Mama Nukku, loosely based on my Nigerian mum.
Identity Crisis speaks to a multicultural, multigenerational audience about issues that are more than skin deep. But first and foremost, it’s funny. Laughter is a medicine, the Bible says so! When people laugh together fear and prejudice begin to disappear and common bonds of understanding grow.
The more that happens, the sooner mums like me can stop worrying for their sons. Right now, having lived in the US for 14 years, I have a deep empathy for all those African American woman who fear what might happen when their boy winds down the car window for a policeman. We have a long way to go.
You can catch Phina Oruche: Identity Crisis at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe at Spotlites (venue 278) from Sunday 21st August – Sunday 28th August. For more information and tickets click here!