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Interview: Actor Anthony Ofoegbu chats with Paul Anthony Morris, director of Conundrum at the Young Vic


Image: Paul Anthony Morris (left) and Anthony Ofoegbu (right) in rehearsal, photographed by Kingsley Davis.

Conundrum is an evocative new drama from Crying In The Wilderness Productions, a Young Vic Associate Company. Conundrum marks the company’s debut at the Young Vic and is written and directed by Crying In The Wilderness Artistic Director, Paul Anthony Morris.

Paul is interviewed here by actor Anthony Ofoegbu seen recently in Barber Shop Chronicles. In the show, Anthony plays Fidel who faces the eponymous conundrum as he dives headlong into a powerful exploration of his own life trajectory.

Conundrum runs at the Young Vic from January 14 to February 4.

Anthony Ofoegbu: Tell us about the origins of Conundrum - where did it all begin?

Paul Anthony Morris: I was directing an adaptation of the novel, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, when my Creative Consultant, Trevor Blackwood, urged me to write a new play about people who we both knew who had been deprived of a professional career even though they possessed both the talent and credentials to be given the opportunity.

Reluctantly, I agreed to write the first five pages just to get him off my back. In those pages were my protagonist Fidel’s first speech and the mental health and self-healing scenes which are pivotal to the themes of the play. The existential questions the play was posing, ‘Who am I and why am I here?’ really grabbed my attention and has become the bedrock of our production. Suffice to say, without the nagging of my Creative Consultant, I don’t think Conundrum would have been written.  
Anthony: What is the play about?

Paul: Simply put, it’s a life review conducted by my lead character, Fidel, who has an extremely high IQ. His aim is to identify the obstacles in his life, and to transcend them. However, he also discovers that he too is responsible for undermining his own wellbeing and his lack of progress.

 

Anthony: This aspect of self-awareness and self-healing brings me nicely to my next question. Your tag line for Conundrum is ‘an intimate tale of self-discovery, liberation and bliss’. Can you explain what you mean by that?

Paul: Conundrum is not just about asking questions; it’s also about exploring potential answers to those questions. Whilst I understand that there is no one-size-fits-all remedy for our individual or societal issues, there are fundamental benchmarks that we all aspire to. Self-discovery, liberation and bliss are linked to conditions which promote peace, happiness and growth. In my own quest for greater autonomy over my life, self-inquiry is a crucial practise. This doesn’t mean that I am not affected by the isms of society, but what it does mean is that my self-image is not depreciated in my own eyes. This is the biggest challenge for Fidel: how not to become complicit in his own demise.

Anthony: Having worked on the project with you as an actor for a number of years, I am always surprised by its evolution. Last year we performed an abridged version for the European Capital of Culture festival as the only UK representative with labelling status. In January 2022 we will be at the Young Vic, how different will the play be?

Paul: We are currently in rehearsals and this incarnation of the production is already very different from all the other showcases we have performed previously in the play’s development. We are very much aiming to create a deeper sensory experience for the audience, one that we hope will encourage contemplation of their own lives.

Anthony: How is this psychological impact achieved?

Paul: Many years ago, I created a theatrical philosophy and style called Theatre of the Soul. It’s an inter-cultural practice combining the disciplines of drama, music, dance, iconography, mime etc. The goal of each discipline is not to create competing forces, but complimentary features that provide us with new insights, a different perspective into the motivations and psyche of the characters. By using movement, rituals and gestures in the play, for example, we are able to create a vast range of emotional expressions for our characters that are both intimate and formal.

Anthony: Tell us a bit about your process as director?

Paul: I am of the belief that seventy percent of the direction is seeded in the writing. For me, the vision is already in the narrative. I don’t need to go and create another vision to put on top of what already exists. Once I have grasped the vision, I then set about bringing on board a team of collaborators. I see my role as a director as an enabler really, to share my platform with other highly-skilled creatives who will add layers to the narrative and the experience of the audience. I don’t instruct my collaborators, I trust their instincts and we work things through if there is a difference of opinion, I am not one for clipping their wings. I have also learnt that a suggestion made and rejected during week one of rehearsals can make perfect sense in week four of the rehearsal process, so I keep a mental storage of rejected ideas just in case. In relation to my work with actors, they need to also have good movement skills. Movement meditation is utilised in my process to create a sense of openness and teamwork.  

Anthony: No, I never feel that my wings are clipped - for want of an analogy - under your process. The fact that we can and do have in-depth conversation(s) prior to doing any physical work is something that I relish so that I feel I am completely on the same page as to where I think your mind is. I can then have the ability and impetus to lend my own skillset to what’s being crafted. The sharing of ideas then feels wholesome and constructive.

Anthony: What do you expect the audience to take away from the performance?

Paul: My simple objective is that the play will touch the audience. That they will see some aspect of Fidel’s life in their own.

Anthony: When does Conundrum open at the Young Vic?

Paul: It runs from the 14th of January to the 4th February. Tickets are still available.

Anthony: Thank you, Paul Anthony Morris for your time.

cryinginthewildernessproductions.com

A Crying in the Wilderness Production in association with the Young Vic
Conundrum
Written & Directed by Paul Anthony Morris
14 Jan 2022 - 4 Feb 2022

Young Vic
66 The Cut
Waterloo
London SE1 8LZ
Tickets and info: youngvic.org


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