Please note: This review – like the production itself – discusses the topics of masculinity, homophobia and sexual assault. Please take care when reading and click off this article if these subjects are triggering to you.
Concept Theatre bring another hard-hitting box of tricks to the stage in Sons, their latest production after the vital and daring I’m Just A Little Bit OCD last year. This time, the container is emblazoned with the image of a foetus – the son about to be delivered by the partner of protagonist John (Olugbeminiyi Bammodu), and a reality and paternity he isn’t quite ready to confront just yet, so decides to lock himself in the toilet at the bakery where he works instead. Mixing both silliness and a rare kind of honesty, Bammodu’s script is a striking scrutiny of masculinity.
John is immediately likeable as a narrator, not least when it comes to his witty observations or “tangents” about society, from the secret hope people don’t take up your offer of a bit of your food because you want it all to yourself, to pointing out the unique description of “tall, dark and handsome” which only applies to a certain demographic. When he then shares string of anecdotes on family, male peer pressure/complicity and fatherhood – either candidly admitting to complacency in the homophobic bullying of a boy named Barney at school, or being shockingly explicit in a depiction of an NSFW revelation – we can’t help but warm to him more due to how open he’s being with us.
To be honest, it’s necessary when the rhetorical questions he asks us are why don’t men do something when they witness injustice being carried out by another man, or when they are expected to, and equally, when men finally do the bare minimum – say, turn up to parental sessions in the build-up to childbirth as a father – why they are praised for it? Bammodu doesn’t quite present us with a clear answer as to what he thinks is responsible for this issue, though he does express anger at his younger self for being a ‘sheep’ in a way which suggests it might be because we are encouraged to ‘fit in’ to a male groupthink which doesn’t allow for becoming an individual. It would certainly explain some of the animosity John’s dad – referred to as ‘Werewolf’ throughout because of how rarely he goes out – has towards him and why he takes more of a shine to his older brother. But when this favouritism dissipates when the brother is arrested and sentenced for a sexual assault, and Werewolf shows little care or compassion for John’s distraught and devastated mother, our protagonist is raw, enraged and scathing in demanding Werewolf do better, and holding him to account. Bammodu’s performance is visceral and refreshing in having the difficult and hard-hitting conversations men need to have more often with other men, although it is baffling that Jonathan Tyler-Moore’s lighting choices mean the actor’s spending a considerable amount of time addressing us in the dark, and not with a spotlight on him, at the very least. It’s needed when the message of the play is so important.
And so, when John learns his partner is in labour, we can understand why he’s a little overwhelmed at the thought of introducing a son into a world full of such toxic masculinity, but the solution lies in the very nature of the play itself: being candid, open and accountable to and with other men – and while we continue to work to dismantle the patriarchy, such a message will never not be timely and important.
Sons played at VAULT Festival from 11-12 March. It will be performed at Brighton’s Caravanserai as part of Brighton Fringe on 18 and 19 May.
Production Images: Concept Theatre.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Sons’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.