Thirty is a big year. “It just matters,” as Tunde, our protagonist tells us. But despite being the king of birthdays, demanding a kid’s birthday cake every year with jam and buttercream and all the E numbers, this year he wants a quiet one. So quiet, in fact, he doesn’t want any company at all.
A classic victim of toxic masculinity, Tunde doesn’t like to talk about his feelings, even once he’s managed to get himself to therapy. He thinks crying is shameful for men, and he describes women as a score out of ten. I don’t like him. Of course I don’t like him. He’s shallow and sexist and shows nothing else of himself to the world, which should make him incredibly boring.
The audience, however, is privy to his rich inner voice, fairly capable of locating the source of his depression. So rather than bored, I’m frustrated that he’s choosing to hit on his therapist instead of actually explaining what’s going on in his head, or that he’s telling his best friend that he’s taken time off work when in fact he’s unemployed and desperately so. He’s very much a product of his upbringing, taking his cue from his dad who believes that a man should “carry the load, and not be part of the burden”. And, incapable of expressing that he needs help, he is destined to a sorrowful end.
Writer Ifeyinwa Frederick does well to keep it as light as possible for as long as possible before the tragedy of it is eventually too overwhelming. The audience laughs nervously along with Tunde’s erratic behaviour, as though trying to make him feel comfortable in the intimate auditorium.
The design is kept pretty simple, a warm orange glow versus harsh bright lights denoting different spaces rather than any changes to set. And despite other characters technically featuring, it’s just Tunde, played by Joseph Black, talking to himself on stage for over ninety minutes. It’s intense and uncomfortable, with nowhere to look but directly at the spiraling hopelessness before us.
Joseph Black is perfectly cast. Tall, broad, and good-looking, he’s incredibly cheeky, making his pecks dance for his therapist, and he’s got a ton of energy, which makes it all the more unsettling when he is suddenly still.
Watching someone unlikeable for ninety minutes as he self-destructs is a strange sensation. But I think that’s exactly the point. Depression and the things that cause it don’t make for great company. It’s not romantic to be sad, and it’s not commendable to be stoic, and that’s what Sessions is desperate trying to show us.
Sessions is on at Soho Theatre till 4th December. More info here.