Review: The Battle of Wits (Unity Theatre, online)

Every person, whether a creative artist or not, has had a unique response to the pandemic crisis over the past year. Unity commissioned this digital performance from neurodiverse artist Gold Maria Akanbi, which explores how COVID-19 has created a state of internal warfare within the self.

Representing this “battle” as part drama, part video game, The Battle of Wits, is both interesting and impenetrable, as Akanbi explores issues around identity and illness within a colourful setting, scored by Charles Jaiyeola. It is about the changing of a mindset, and the submission of the will for the greater good, as well as different issues around neurological challenges.

Image from Battle of Wits

For me, the sequences of ‘battle’, presented literally, were the least successful parts of the piece, but that is perhaps due to my lack of interest in combat gameplay, however linked it might be to current or recent events. As Akanbi is primarily an artist, this feels more installation than theatre throughout, with the audience invited to bring their own perspective or experience to the piece.

In watching this piece – which does bravely address some difficult points at times – I was struck by the beauty of the images and the thread of humour which runs through the whole show. Even the battles themselves have a certain poetry and symmetry which is diverting to watch even you don’t quite know what is going on.

My previous exposure to Akanbi’s work: her film Beautiful Blue in last year’s Fringe of Colour festival, was deeply provoking and provided a similar level of engrossing visuals in their exploration of life as a disabled Black artist.

The Battle of Wits has been made freely available on the Unity Theatre website until 30 May and runs just over 30 minutes. To find out more about Gold Maria Akanbi please visit their website.