‘My Mum said “if you have children, don’t have girls”’: an interview with playwright Racheal Ofori

“My Mum said to me

‘if you ever have children, don’t have girls.

They give you too much of a headache.’”

– Racheal Ofori, So Many Reasons

 

Racheal Ofori is a London-based spoken-word poet, writer, and actress. Ofori debuted her play So Many Reasons during the feminist festival Calm Down, Dear 2018 at Camden People’s Theatre.

Nabbing a spot on gal-dem’s list of plays by POC to see this year, So Many Reasons unpacks the generational divides between mother and daughter, the struggle between religion and sexuality, and what it means to be sexually liberated. The main character, Melissa, is a first generation British-born Ghanaian who we see struggling to balance the expectations of religion, and the curiosity of teenage sexuality.

Ofori’s previous one-woman show, Portrait, was performed to sell-out audiences at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and, through multiple life stories, explored the struggles of black womanhood. Similarly, So Many Reasons centres around black women, but this time, Racheal set herself a challenge to tell one story; of Melissa, the protagonist, and her struggle to come to terms with her own idea of sexuality, alongside understanding her womanhood through the church. gal-dem caught up with Racheal to find out a bit more about the play.

 

gal-dem: How does the idea of chastity affect Melissa? I get the impression she falls apart in negotiating between being chaste and being what is seen as ‘sinful’ in the church, and is kind of crushed by all things expected from her.

Ofori: Yes, in trying to be this perfect, chaste girl, she actually is incredibly unhappy because of her simultaneous religious snobbery and Christian perfection. In both ways you are forcing yourself to be something that isn’t true to you. Everybody has internal conflicts – perhaps not religion or sex, but most people can recognise having multiple expectations inside them, and not being able to fulfil them all.

 

Where do you think such a toxic relationship between sexuality and womanhood comes from?

In the media [black women] are so sexual and objectified a lot more than white women, so sometimes when you want to appear intelligent, or anything above that, you try and become more chaste so that you can be respected more. I think that’s what this show was about also, finding your sexuality in a world where people objectify you by default. But just because the world sees us as sexual beings doesn’t mean you have to repress that part of yourself.

 

I really enjoyed how funny the show was – one of the stand out scenes for me was when Melissa masturbates for the first time. What was that like to perform?

It was really fun. The lines in that scene are improvised; everything else is written word for word, but with those ones, I just go for it. I spend a lot of time looking at the audience and I think it makes them uncomfortable.

I think being uncomfortable is important though – it challenges us an audience. Did you mean for it to kind of feel like we were doing it with her?

The thing about Melissa is that she starts exploring when she is 24, and I think it’s important that people realise that they can explore themselves early on too. I remember in school when people would talk about virginity and boys, it was always talking about pleasing him. I know obviously guys have their own pressures. But now I look back, it seems like as young girls we weren’t taking the time to explore our bodies. Guys used to have a wank and chat about it. Women are playing catch-up. For ages we’ve been seen as decorative, and to serve men; it feels like now there is a movement towards reclaiming your sexuality for yourself.

 

If you could sum up the play in three words, what would they be?

Funny, poignant, and honest.

 

So Many Reasons an unapologetically funny portrayal of the experience of black British female womanhood that hasn’t been done on stage before was on at The Ovalhouse from 6-10 March.

You can keep up with all the exciting things Racheal has going on by following her on Twitter.  

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