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Review: And Breathe…, Almeida Theatre

The Almeida Theatre in Islington has tackled current restrictions with a real sense of purpose and pragmatism. Inside the auditorium a number of seats have been physically removed to ensure social distancing is observed. Of course not all theatres are able to do this, but it’s a sure sign of how determined theatre is to overcome the circumstances with which it is confronted. The venue now plays host to an innovative new work by writer and poet Yomi Ṣode. The play is essentially a one act monologue, performed by David Jonsson as Junior. There is a rhythmic coolness about…

Summary

Rating

Excellent

A sad, funny and deeply moving study of a family coming to terms with the imminent death of its matriarchal head.

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The Almeida Theatre in Islington has tackled current restrictions with a real sense of purpose and pragmatism. Inside the auditorium a number of seats have been physically removed to ensure social distancing is observed. Of course not all theatres are able to do this, but it’s a sure sign of how determined theatre is to overcome the circumstances with which it is confronted. The venue now plays host to an innovative new work by writer and poet Yomi Ṣode.

The play is essentially a one act monologue, performed by David Jonsson as Junior. There is a rhythmic coolness about his delivery, which is given added emphasis by musical accompaniment from Femi Temowo. The stage is basic save for a desk where Femi sits to play guitar and keyboards. The music soon becomes vital as it adds a unique, lilting glow to the narrative. There are elements of beat and dub poetry as an initially obscure story gently unfolds. It begins with Junior speaking to his cousin Ade. The foggy plot gradually clears as he relates the tale of family matriarch Big Mummy, who is in a hospice dying of cancer. A solo performer has to play their own character and present a multiple portrayal of others integral to the story – no easy task at the best of times, but Jonsson turns the trick without a bead of sweat crossing his brow.

He projects his voice deep, high, loud and quiet as required by each character, and is nothing less than convincing when adopting the personas of cousin Ade, Auntie M, Uncle D or the wonderfully Nigerian Big Mummy. This play skilfully deals with the distress and all-consuming feeling of grief. The realisation that we can never prepare for the death of a loved one is laid bare, even though it is plainly obvious the end is approaching. The narrative alights more on the joys of a life lived rather than sorrow of one lost: no unfinished business, nothing left unsaid but a simple exposition of how we cope with loss and emerge stronger as a result. Ṣode and Jonsson are master practitioners of their craft as one breathes life into the other; a perfect combination of writer and performer rarely seen these days.

Written by: Yomi Ṣode
Directed by: Miranda Cromwell
Music by: Femi Temowo
Produced by: Almeida Theatre

And Breathe… is playing until 10 July. Further information and booking via the below link.

About Brian Penn

Civil Servant. Brian flirted with drama at school but artistic differences forced a painful separation. At least he knows what his motivation is. Now occupying a safe position in the audience he enjoys all kinds of theatre. He was bitten by the theatrical bug after watching a production of Tommy in his teens. Other passions include films, TV and classic rhythm and blues. He also finds time for quizzes, football and squash. A keen sports fan, his enthusiasm crashes to a halt whenever anyone mentions golf. A musical based on the life of Tiger Woods could be his greatest challenge.