And Breathe… at Almeida Theatre
Yomi Ṣode’s And Breathe… is a meditation on grief embodied and enculturated by black men of Nigerian descent. The playwright’s poetic, pained writing radiates through a riveting performance from David Jonsson. It’s a striking work, which gives the audience an opportunity to pause for reflection.
Ṣode lets viewers into the inner thoughts of Junior, a young black Londoner who is struggling with the impending death of his maternal figure and family matriarch Big Mummy. Conflicted over expressing pain and regrets to his younger cousin Ade – who he is responsible for – the protagonist contemplates the significance of what is said in the midst of vulnerability.
While the monologue’s opening is a hurried, breathless introduction into the character’s unravelling stream of consciousness, Miranda Cromwell’s precise direction helps clarify the narrator’s internal trepidations and external posture. The audience are invited on an exploration into black masculinity, the particular social situations and cultural expectations that young men of the Yoruba diaspora growing up in London have to navigate. The poet-playwright probes the gaps between the spoken and unspoken, stance and sentiment, as they relate to the troubling nature of loss and maturity. Ṣode multi-styled script is consistently thoughtful yet frank. For each occasional flat turn of phrase or imagery in the narrative, there is deep introspection in its difficult admissions.
Jonsson breathes life into this staging. The actor’s physically and emotionally versatile performance is effortless as he rebounds between the people and layers in the ode. From a kinetic sequence where he slides through the London Underground, to the perfectly timed stillness in those stark moments of emotional weight, Jonsson’s captivating presence sweeps the viewers up into the play’s varied tone, pace and characters.
It is easy to forget the protagonist is almost alone on the starkly dressed stage, merely backdropped by gently flowing projections on the exposed brick wall. The performance is complimented by musician Femi Temowo, whose live on-stage accompaniment is responsive for both tenderness and tension. Together they evoke the raw atmosphere in the production’s most emotional moments. The solemn plucking of a single guitar string to suggest a heart monitor, followed by considered timing of heavy breathing in the silence, are simply staged yet markedly poignant.
For a one-hour, one-man monologue, And Breathe…is a deeply immersive, emotionally acute experience that resonates powerfully with the play’s cultural specificity.
Photo: Isha Shah & Marc Brenner
And Breathe… is at Almeida Theatre from 16th June until 10th July 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.