Written By Yomi Sode, Directed By Miranda Cromwell
And Starrin’ David Jonsson
A Theatre Review Special
We Take A Look At The Actor, The Issues, The Writer & The Director And A Very Modern Theatre In The Age of Black Lives Matter
Outside, The ‘And Breathe‘ Press Night… Monday June 21 2021 Was Buzzin Despite The Pandemic Which Has Loomed Large In Theatreland. It Made Seein Actors, Directors, Writers And Audience Members Out & About Even More Excitin’ Than Normal. This Was A Great Night of Theatre, A Great Nugget of Culture From Nigeria And A Great Cast of Creatives Who Are Supremely Stellar. The Run Finished July 10. We Take A Little Look At How It Went & Ask Will It Be Streamed Again?
Inside, The Diverse Audience Showed Their Appreciation With Attentive Gaze And Culturally Clued Up Laughter Throughout The Play.
At The End, The Applause Was Emphatic And Historic As It Conveyed Both Appreciation For The Great Performance Plus The Joy of A Freshly Liberated Audience (Finally Once Again Enjoyin Theatrical Fulfilment, Followin Covid Confinement).
And Breathe…Is A Short, Simple, Serious Yet Funny Exploration of Male Emotion. And The Dangers of Suppressin It. Simple Yet Paradoxically Complex This Look At Familial Secrecy, Loss & Grief Demands The Acting Ability of A Fierce Yet Thoughtful Thespian. In Jonsson We Have One. Even Though He Is Notably Young. And The Number of Cast Members Is just One.
With Humour, Humility And A Super Power Memory For Dialogue He Must Navigate The Explosive Issues of Cultural Secrecy, Familial Seniority, Environment, Deprivation, Religion And Unisex Sexism. And In Turn, Any Subsequent Mental Health or Societal Impact, Be It Little, Latent or Lamentably Large.
Young Junior Learns Way Too Late of The All Consumin Illness Suffered By A Beloved Female Family Member. It Takes Him on A Retrospective & Transformative Journey. And He Takes Us Along For The Ride, Where The Particular Intimacy of The Almeida Theatre Make It A Journey of Emotional Highs And Lows. With A Few Laughs Along The Way.
A Surprisingly Movin Moment Comes When Junior’s Reflections Invoke The Idea That Our Loved Ones Will Always Be Critically Observin And Commentin On Our Day To Day Decisions, Actions And Interactions. Habitually. Uninvited. Typically. Even When They Are Dead And In Their Divinely Designated Graves.
Prior To This The Common Reality of Female Complicity In Male Biased Sexism Is Displayed (As Often Perpetrated By Matriarchs Who Overindulge Their Sons).
And There’s A Simultaneous Undulatin’ Awkward, Resistant, Male Regard For Non Family Females. Often From Men Who Nevertheless Absolutely, Wholly & Totally Revere Their Mothers.
In This Sense, In All It’s African Splendour ‘And Breathe…‘ Manages To Reflect A Human Commonality, Which Is Needed Right Now In Our Troubled And Transitional Society, Where New Narratives Are A Burnin Necessity. Such Is The Humanity Conveyed Through The Writin,’ Directin’ And Actin’ In This Play That One Is Reminded of The Classic Italian Stallion Scenario Where A Young Lothario Is Swiftly Brought Back To Boyhood By Just A Look or A Few No-Nonsense Words From His All Powerful Italian Mama & Most Momentous of Matriarchs.
Thus And Breathe’s… Ability To Take Our Imaginations On A Nigerian & Universally Human Journey Is Evidence That The Old Prohibitive Narrative That Only White Casts Can Tell Universally Engagin Stories, Is A Fallacy. Let The One Race – The Human Race – See More Plays Portrayin Humanity Through The Bindin Power of Diversity. And May More Plays Also Find Power In Such Simplicity.
The Sartorial Show Must Go On?
A Playful Practical Element of The Production Is The Musical Interaction Between Jonsson’s Character (All The While Still In Character) & The On Stage Musical Director, Femi Temowo (Who Is Technically Not A Cast Member). Whereas Large Scale Productions Typically Feature The Orchestra In The Pit At The Front of Stage, The Almeida’s Cosiness Means He Is Actually Situated On Stage And His Presence Is Styled Out Practically & Cleverly.
That Said, Given His Visible Prominence & His Important Position Perhaps It Would Have Been Worth The Costume Department Payin’ Him More Particular Sartorial Attention. Especially As Audiences Returnin’ To The Theatre Will Have A Greater Sense of Occasion Post Pandemic. One Can’t Help Feelin’ An Opportunity To Showcase Some Gorgeous Cultural Gentlemen’s Garb Was Missed On This Occasion. Especially As Human Beings Being Human Beings Means For Some Folk Funerals Are Also A ‘Secret’ Opportunity For An Understated Fashion Show. Reflectin’ A Greater Sense of Occasion Pertainin’ To This Element of The Stagin’ May Have Added An Extra Special Ingredient To Stir Up Even More Unique Dramatic Flavour.
Nonetheless This Musical Interplay Did Hit A High Note.
Post Covid Positive (Streamin Performance)
Almeida Previously Live Streamed The Production of And Breathe… Durin Its Run (June 16 – July 10 2021). However It Is Not Currently Clear If They Will Stream It Again After The Run Is Finished. However They Did Stream The Play Hymn Again In March Earlier This Year After It’s Initial Digital Run In February. (A New Run of Hymn Begins July 17 2021 And We Look Forward To Seein It And Sharin It With You Soon.)
Theatre Streamin (Live or Recorded) Is A New Digital Development In The Theatre World Which We Hope Will Survive These Testin Times. Society Has Discovered New Ways of Connectin’ & Consumin’ Without Commutin Which Are Most Practical And Democratic.
Meantime If They Digitally Re-Run This One, Treat Yourself. “Is It Time For Change And Givin Our Men An Emotional Break?” (almeida.co.uk) The Current Prevalence of Autobiographical Accounts of Men & Mental Health Issues Would Indicate It Is.
Real Men Don’t Cry?
This Debate Began In Earnest Approximately Thirty One Years Ago After England Footballer Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne Cried On The Pitch After Bein Sent off For A Footie Infraction Against A German Player In The 1990 World Cup Semi-Final. Whether or Not It’s Okay For A Man To Cry Became A Huge National Debate.
We’ll Never Know Exactly When Gazza’s Problems Started But We Do Know How They Ended. The Conversation Fizzled Out And So Did He. He Became An Alcoholic, A Wife Beater (Well Documented In The Public Domain) And A Lonely, Sorry, Pathetic Lookin Man Eventually Convicted of Racist Abuse. He Is But One Example And He Comes To Mind Largely Because of The Current Euro 2020 Football Fever & Inevitable Nostalgia.
Touchin’ On Suppression, Underestimation And Even Denial of Male Emotions ‘And Breathe…’ Adds To The Debate, Even If Only In A Little or Unobvious Way. And In That Sense It’s Great. Brave. And Important. If Ever There Was A Time For Change In How We See Our Fellow ‘Men’ & What We Expect of Them, It’s Now. Leavin Untapped Emotions Hangin Is Unhealthy And Sets Society Up For An Own Goal.
Powerful Guidance From A Conversation Counsellor – About Discussin Cancer
A Common Reason For Keepin A Cancer Diagnosis Secret Is The Belief That Other People Cannot Handle The Truth. Sometimes That’s True. As Is The Fact That Some Patients Prefer Solitude.
A Cancer Diagnosis Is Not Only Bad News for The Person Who Receives It & Is Directly Affected By It, But Also For Their Loved Ones, Friends & Associates As They Too Receive Bad News And Are Indirectly Affected By It.
On Behalf of The Roy Castle Foundation Comedian & Men’s Mental Health Counsellor John Ryan Made A Video Outlinin How People Might Best Help The Person Directly Affected & Indeed Help Themselves To Be Helpful & Practical.
David Jonsson’s Central Role In The BBC TV Series Industry (Made By HBO) Was A Career Game Changer That Elevated Him Into The Acting Stratosphere. It Deserves A Quick Little Gander.
First Aired November 2020 It Features Five Graduate Scheme Traders In A Fictional Fierce City Organisation Competin Against Each Other And Vying For A Permanent Position. Surprisingly It’s Not As Dry As It Sounds.
Havin Now Watched Industry For Compare & Contrast Research Purposes Only, Havin Been Steered Towards It, By One of His Fellow Actors Who Raved About His Acting In It, On Press Night, One Can Say That Sex Scenes These Days Are Jaw-Droppingly Graphic. (And That’s Comin From A Sex And The City Devotee. Mind You Both Shows Are Made By The Same Company So Perhaps It’s Just Natural Inevitable Progression). Turns Out Mary Whitehouse Was Right About That “Slippery Slope.” The Genie Is Out of The Bottle! All Kinds of Adults – Posh & Poor – Are Havin All Kinds of Sex. On Telly!
Aside From Sex, The Characters Are Addictive And The Twist Is A Shocker Which Illustrates The Depths of Immorality In The City.
The Point Is, Jonsson’s Loyal Friend Was Right About The Versatility of His Acting Ability. Pullin Off Industry Then Pivotin’ To This Play Simply Confirms He’s One of The Best Actors of The Modern Day. We Look Forward To Seein More From Him.
The Almeida’s Fresh Start
Almeida Theatre Has Recently Committed To Becomin An Anti-Racist Organisation, Anti-Racism Trainin In Partnership With Inc Arts UK, Eradicatin Systems That Have Perpetuated Inequality, An Action For Change Policy And A New In-house Writers Development Scheme From 2021/22
This Follows Abandonment of Their 2020/21 Genesis Writers Programme After Two Black Participants Were Misidentified As Each Other In Some of Its Promotional Material. The Whole Small Group Lost Interest After That. The Theatre Honoured Financial Commission Commitments But It Was Agreed By All A Fresh Start Was Needed. And So They’ve Embarked On One.
Syrus Lowe, A Black Actor Who Graduated From RADA In 2007, Wrote An Excellent Article Ten Years Later, Published In The Stage Magazine March 2017. He Explains Why Such ID Mistakes Are Hurtful & Simple Ways To Avoid Them. (Syrus Lowe: https://www.thestage.co.uk/opinion/syrus-lowe-confusing-me-with-another-black-actor-is-no-laughing-matter). Clearly There’s Still Much More Work To Be Done. Even After So Much Time Since Such Work Begun (With Other Basics Such As The Bus Boycott & Before That In The 1950s – Before We Even Got To The Civil Rights Climax of The 1960s). It’s Holistic. it’s Generational. Hope Springs Eternal!
Under Rupert Goold’s Directorship (Since 2013) It Has Already Been Recognised By Theatre Aficionados As Havin Made Bold Changes To Regional Theatre. These Changes Have Made It More Interestin, Edgy And Appealin All Round. In This Age of Social Justice Reform With An Innovator & Leader Like Him Society May Look Forward To A Fresh Scene In Theatreland.
A Stellar Cast of
Writer Yomi Ṣode
The Weekend Before The Play’s Press Night Monday June 21 2020, Writer Yomi Sode Appeared On BBC’s ‘Poetry Please’ Which Aired Saturday June 19 & Sunday June 20 2021.
This Is A Long Standin Audience Interactive Radio Chat Show Where (Approximately Six or Seven) Lucky Listeners Listen To Poignant Pieces of Poetry They Have Selected, Read Out On The Radio.
Their Choices Are Revealed Throughout Conversation With The Host, Roger McGough, Himself A Poet, And A Weekly Guest.
In This Episode Yomi Explains How He Developed His Love of Words, Interest In Poetry, And When He Might Be Inclined To Get A Bit More ‘Lovey Dovey’ Poetically.
From ‘Manorism’ His Own Collection of Poems Comes ‘On Fatherhood: Proximity To Death’ Which Seems Thematic As It Considers Death And Fatherhood, Whilst ‘And Breathe…’ Deals With Death And Matriarchy.
It’s A Pleasure To Hear Him Recite His Own Words In His Own Voice From His Own Debut Poem Collection As It Is Not Due To Be Released Until Next Spring (By Penguin Press).
Some of These Particular Poetic Words Appear In ‘And Breathe…’ Which Means We Are Generously Afforded The Double Pleasure of Hearin Sode Readin His Work, If You Listen To The Podcast, And Watchin Jonsson Do The Same, If You Watch The Play.
Particularly Horrific & Hauntin Is ‘The Poem ‘The Colonel’ By Carolyn Forche. He Explains That The “Poet of Witness” Writin Style Helped Him Evolve His Own Writin’ Identity & Become The Playwright He Is Today.
Particularly Charmin Is “Egusi Soup” As There Is Innate Joy In Hearin’ An Engagin Accent Different To That Which Is Normally Heard Day To Day, And Hearin’ Jackie Kay’s Scottish Accent Read Aloud The A Work of African Culture with African References Is One Such Example.
You Can Discover The Rest of These Poetic Pleasures For Yourself, As Poetry Please Is Currently Available On The BBC Sounds App.
Select Poems Featured In The Much Loved Series Are Available In A Book Published By Faber & Fabler.
Sode Is A Multi-Award Winnin Poet, Performer & Writer, Born In Nigeria & Later Graduated From Brunel University With A Degree In Youth & Community. His Work Has Been Commissioned By The Southbank Centre, Chineke Orchestra & The Horniman Museum, Amongst Others.
Lightin Paule Constable
Sound Tony Gayle
Video Ravi Deepres
Voice Coach Hazel Holder
Main Character Junior
Played By David Jonsson
And Breathe’s Multi-Award Winnin Director Miranda Cromwell Is Committed To Voicin Different Narratives In Theatrical Drama. Along With Co-Director Marianne Elliot, Won A 2020 Olivier Award For Her Joint Directorship of The Arthur Miller Play ‘Death of A Salesman’ Starrin’ Wendell Pierce And Sharon D Clarke.
In Her Acceptance Speech She Highlighted That Diversity In Theatre Is Long Overdue:
“We Have An Opportune Moment To Rebuild Theatre Differently, Inclusively. Representation Both On And Off The Stage Is Both Essential And Overdue. Culture Needs Diversity.”Director Miranda Cromwell Expressin A Positive & Powerful Perspective About Post Pandemic Possibilities
Elliot Also Hailed A New Dawn of Inclusion And Innovation Post Pandemic (And She Emphasised Her To Everyone That She Believed It Will Eventually Be Over. That Was A Nice Touch As She Spoke From The Heart & Engendered Hope).
2015 Bond Movie ‘Spectre’ Director Sir Sam Mendes, Presentin Them With The Award, Urged Support For Freelance Theatre Workers & Other Theatre Crew Through The Theatre Artists Fund Which He Helped To Set Up. It Received Support From Numerous People & Organisations Within The World of Film, Theatre, & Television, Includin Netflix, Warner Media And The Society of London Theatre & UK Theatre. The Theatre Development Trust Ltd Was Set Up To Administer The Donations And Award The Grants Subject To Certain Application Times & Criteria (theatreartisits.fund)
Miranda Cromwell (Along With Co-Director Marianne Elliot) Won A 2020 Best Director Olivier Award For Death of A Salesman Followin It’s Transfer From The Young Vic To The Piccadilly Theatre (Where It Ran October 24 2019 – January 04 2020)
Director Miranda Cromwell Also Collected The Award For Best Production of A Play, On Behalf of The Team, For Death of A Salesman, At The Black Theatre Awards 2020. Cromwell’s Genius Was Not Substantively Changin The Words of The Play But Changin The Protagonists Deliverin Those Words. Instead of A White Middle Class Family, She Staged A Black Workin Class Family. It Worked & Was Even Described As The Best Production of This Arthur Miller Play Ever Seen (Among It Many Accolades). Provin Once Again, That In True Diversity We Can See True Humanity.
Almedia’s Artistic Director
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