Within just an hour, SONS recounts the learnings from a lifetime of relationships. Our protagonist is John: a baker, and generally a good guy. Except for today, as his girlfriend is in labour and in a blind panic he’s hiding in the toilet: he’s not sure if he’s ready to be a father.
Here to challenge society’s status quo.
Speaking to a packed out audience at the Caravenserai Junk Poets, John tells us tales from his life as he tries to work out where the boundaries between parents and children should lie, what it means to have had an absent father, and whether he can forgive himself for not speaking out against bullying.
Olugbeminiyi Bommodu is both the writer and the key performer of SONS. His performance is highly believable; with just the slight widening of his eyes you can truly feel John’s fear and vulnerability, and later, his rage at the injustice that has occurred within his own family filled the room. His comic timing is also impeccable as he lands every joke, and is unafraid to make the (mostly white Brighton Fringe) audience tread the fine line between discomfort and humour, such as one game where the audience needs to judge whether famous celebrities are ‘tall, dark, and handsome’, or just ‘tall, dark-haired, and handsome’. Despite taking on a whole host of characters that include everything from a sexually liberated Brummie mum, to a M&S-buying lazy boyfriend, and John’s strict Nigerian mother, Bommodu brings a distinct personality to each as he builds the scenes before our eyes, no doubt helped by the sharp direction of Eleanor Holmes.
Throughout, Bommodu is unafraid to tackle sensitive topics and doesn’t shy away from bringing John to life as a fully rounded character with familiar flaws. It could have been easy to simply play on the father-son relationship (or lack of, in this story) and cast the regularly neglectful and hurtful father as the only villain. There’s certainly plenty to dislike about ‘the werewolf’ as he’s known, but Bommodu takes it deeper, and makes John recount his complicity in homophobic abuse against another teenage student. This forces the audience to question themselves: we might be the ‘good guy’ in our own story, but have we ever ignored the abuse of others in the hope of staying out of trouble? Laughed at sensitive men like John who cry at Grey’s Anatomy? Judged mothers more than fathers for their children’s actions? SONS is here to challenge society’s status quo.
If that all sounds too solemn, you’d be wrong as, although there are many moving moments, there are plenty of laughs as John dives down tangents. One running joke is born after he reveals that his baby may potentially be called Gilbert: the audience’s laughter causes John to question this choice, and throughout the rest of the show the baby is always seemingly spontaneously referred to by another name. Despite SONS addressing some very serious subjects, you won’t leave the theatre sombre.
Some jokes are taken a little too far: the shock factor in some scenes might have been very funny, but the surreal and crude slants felt out of place against the otherwise emotive and realistic storytelling. Beyond that, the framing device of John working in a bakery felt… half baked. Upon arrival we were handed a menu for John’s Bakery, but the lemon tart and chocolate fondant on offer seemed to have no real connection to the play. Later, John bakes a cake on stage. It’s used as a metaphor for the ingredients that make up being the perfect parent and, although 13 series of Bake Off shows us how entertaining watching people mix batter can be, it didn’t seem to deliver the desired impact. After John tastes a tiny slice, it is quickly hurried away and forgotten about again. Perhaps there was a fear that just watching a man talk on stage for an hour is not enough, but these elements distracted rather than enhanced.
SONS might have a few rough edges, but it’s clear that Bammodu is a talent to watch. If you ever get the chance to see it, grab it quickly, as the sell-out audiences are already one step ahead.