Yomi Ṣode's poetry makes an affecting portrait of a Yoruba young man in Britain
“Crying being as contagious as a yawn”
and breathe . . . is compiled from Nigerian poet Yomi Ṣode’s poems reflecting on grief and family, on guilt and Yoruba culture.
David Jonsson as Junior takes us into the heart of a young British man, originally from Nigeria as he tries to come to terms with the loss of his Big Momma, his great aunt and the maternal figurehead of his family.
Junior has been too involved with his own wife and son to have enquired about the rest of his family until he meets Ade, a cousin who tells him about Big Momma being ill. Junior and Ade were once close but have become distanced. Although they are near in age, Ade is Big Momma’s son and is Junior’s uncle although Ade is younger than Junior.
Big Momma is taken from her home to a hospice where she can be given palliative care for her cancer. Junior visits her ashamed at not having been there for two years. On top of his concern for his ill grandmother figure he feels guilt. As the eldest boy, in Nigerian culture it is his responsibility to care for the rest of the family and to provide an example to them.
Junior thinks back to when they first came to London and evocatively describes how they arrived in this cold country when Big Momma was out at work as a nurse and they had to shelter in the dust bins area to try to keep warm.
Yomi Ṣode’s words are descriptive and handsome, without being overly ornate. Ravi Deepres has conjured some beautiful projections to enhance the mood. Writing projection breaks into white rain, there is a forest backdrop with trees moving in the wind which turns to black waves with white peaks, as the tide slowly comes towards shore like swagged curtains dissolving into the water. Only for the sequence to repeat with the ocean getting more tempestuous.
I realise with monologues how important lighting is, in changes of atmosphere and Paule Constable is expert under Miranda Cornwell’s assured direction.
Onstage, composer and musician Femi Temowo plays the keyboard and guitar, his percussion adding to the actor’s conveyed mood not just backing him but as if he has Junior’s back.
David Jonsson has wonderfully expressive hands, his long fingers often outstretched to communicate. His enthusiasm, when describing the dishes of food animatedly or his reflecting on his unexpected first journey in a limousine, charm. There is humour too, he says, “I have a feeling she may die on my birthday,” and gives us a wry look.
Junior’s phone is off at night when the news comes through of Big Momma’s death in the hospice but he will do what is expected in organising the funeral and carrying her coffin with five other bearers, his face contorted with tears for this woman he loved.
Junior sums up his life of responsibility, fetching water at age 6, involved in a riot at 11 and at 23 thinking about a funeral.
and breathe . . .
Written by Yomi Ṣode
Directed by Miranda Cromwell
Director: Miranda Cromwell
Design Consultant: Miriam Buether
Lighting Designer: Paule Constable
Sound Designer: Tony Gayle
Video: Ravi Deepres
Composer and Musician: Femi Temowo
Costume: Claire Wardroper
Assistant Director: Ewa Dina
Running Time: 60 minutes without an interval
Booking to 10th July 2021
London N1 1TA
Phone: 020 7359 4404
Tube: The Angel Islington
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the Almeida
on 21st June 2021 at the matinée