Yomi Ṣode’s one-hour one-man play centres around the preparation and aftermath of a highly regarded matriarch passing away who was affectionately referred to as Big Mummy. I’m still undecided whether the timing of me seeing this play was ideal or unfortunate as I have just lost my God-Mummy a few days ago. Therefore, it was a tasteful triggering experience for me.
Now, I tried to figure out the actual relation between Big Mummy and the main character, Junior, but struggled to decipher it. Nor could I work out where on the family tree the other offstage characters belonged. It just seemed as convoluted as my own. I have younger cousins calling me “Aunty” while I call my older cousins “Uncle”, who in turn call my Mum “Big Mummy” and my new baby cousin will be calling me “Grauntie Lo”. I once observed my older sister introduce an older cousin to a friend saying ” … And this is our cousin, Aunty Shade”. Confusing, right? Well that’s the Yoruba Nigerian family tree for you which is rooted in respect and reverence that Ṣode proudly exhibits in this work. Soon it became irrelevant where Big Mummy sits on this family tree as she’s clearly much loved and enthroned in the centre of everyone’s heart. Regardless of our cultural backgrounds, most people have or had an elder we regard highly.
David Jonnson immensely owns the leading role as Junior and offers a genuine and endearing performance throughout. He successfully breathes a plethora of he-motions and natural physicality into the narrative on how men process grief. It is a welcomed breath of fresh air to see a young black male character express high regards to a matriarch especially as there aren’t many plays about men honouring women.
“a deeply moving show giving the audience plenty to contemplate and reflect on long after the show has ended”.
The show is beautifully scored live by composer and musician, Femi Temowo, who was also present on stage throughout. Both him and Jonnson interact playfully to lighten the overwhelming mood and pace of the story.
The staging is minimal, yet intimate as the personal story being shared. The floor was covered with fresh earth to serve a constant reminder of where each of us shall return to someday. The projections against the bare brick wall of the Almeida Theatre displayed an intriguing and informative description of aneephya at the start of the show. Towards the end of the performance it showed the ebbs and flows of water by the sea to articulate how waves of grief come and go. It was a visual representation of how I’ve been grieving this week.
Directed by Miranda Cromwell, the play also explores shame surrounding illness and health conditions as well as secrets kept within the family. It’s pretty much a taboo in a Nigerian family to ask which illness escorted a person to their demise. Such questions arouse a serious scolding and the answer remains a mystery sometimes to the detriment of our future generation’s wellbeing.
“and breathe…” is a deeply moving show giving the audience plenty to contemplate and reflect on long after the show has ended.