Fringe Online 2021
Written by Yomi Sode and performed by David Jonsson, Directed by Miranda Cromwell, lit by Paule Constable, Sound Design Tony Gayle, Video Ravi Deepres, Composer and Musician Femi Temowo, Design Consultant Miriam Buether Costume Claire Wardroper, Voice Coach Hazel Holder Assistant Director Ewa Dina. Till July 10th.
‘Is this how it works, a small calculation of risks… looking at me?’ Poet Yomi Sode’s and breathe… is about how it might not, if we’re from many diverse backgrounds in this country. Not if we can’t express our grief, not if we cry and everyone looks on, British and embarrassed. No wonder you clam up. Why is Sode’s mother, a nurse ‘wiping shit from all those racist OAPs’ the one to fall ill with cancer and not get proper treatment? With more faith in God than the NHS.
Yet this woman who never smokes, drinks, cheats, shirks and pays her taxes and responsibilities to the bone, is dying. But… was she happy? Beyond believing DLR trains are driverless, if that helps. This is personal. It takes courage, delicacy and a memorable handling of themes that can seem painfully familiar. We get all of that here.
Played by David Jonsson, Sode’s addressing us as if a close family member. We’ve seen several scaled-up monologues – the two Death of England solo plays at the National last year, just before and during lockdown. This, less involved with the country, or overt racism, is more intimate. Less facing outward and in this confrontation with death and others’ reactions to it; ‘as if giving birth to this death’ Sode’s persona can face inwards. The text is poetic, studded with compelling knots of attention, insights, quotable one-liners. But Sode’s a storyteller too. It’s a winding narrative.
Particularly in the complex relationship of large families of Yoruba heritage for instance. And a cousin who won’t speak English to him, only Yoruba. Which he can hardly summon. Storytelling’s rich and necessarily with vivid talk-on cameos. For instance we’re given two versions of pastor, parodied by Jonsson. Some people stay away, fearful of being infected.
and breathe… is directed by Miranda Cromwell, lit with a sense of music emergent from depths by Paule Constable, with sound design by Tony Gayle. – working with music on one side, a set of thrown voices and productions of voice on the other; sometimes a metronomic menace emerges, sometimes a hospital monitor. Occasionally a polyphony of sounds and cacophanies overwhelms the stage.
There’s a striking panoramic video by Ravi Deepres, at first enlarging as words type themselves across in white and dissolve in a shower of digital sand. There emerges a figure from words, from history. A deep forest wraps around the stage’s open brickwork (for once near-invisible here), sometimes a deep green sea. We begin to see just how integral to the performance it’s going to be. These images interrogate ancestry, inheritance, baggage.
Femi Temowo’s composer and performing musician – we see him at his performance and mixing desk to start with tracking blended vocals, vocables and an elegiac sound giving small sense of what’s to come. Occasionally Jonsson interacts with him. Later the palette’s more exuberant gospel. Design consultant Miriam Buether has pulled it together with characteristic pristine wonder. Costume by Claire Wardroper works classic black and white.
An hour in and a change of pace, certainly shift. After a riff on a Corbyn rally in Middlesborough it’s funeral meats, a litany of feasts and the funeral; in that order.
The crux of this third section is male vulnerability – something Sode discusses in the post-show Q&A. The way Jonsson tricks out male reactions to vulnerability illuminates this superbly. Male fear of crying; it’s contagious. Jonsson draws in the funereal voices, and radiates out an arrival of small joys, bigger release.
It’s beautifully inhabited by Jonsson, with Temowo and the creatives pushing out an envelope of breathing, a space to celebrate and mourn. Because poetry sashays in and out, there’s a different linguistic pressure and pull-through at different nodal points. So the narrative can eddy, its 72 minutes drift as the production honours real-time moments.
Jonsson saves this in his islanded world, pinpointing diverse voices, once metal-voiced through the mic. What radiates though is Sode’s humanity, warmth shot through with the painful exactness of his vision, shafts of uproarious laughter. He’s not afraid of a breathtaking vulnerability. A private world of poetry and grief’s translated to the stage without a gauze filter. It refuses to strike a distance or attitude, but it’s not simply raw. Sode’s hybrid theatre is a compelling immersion of witness and poetry: we need more of it.