Sessions review: a timely exploration of black male mental health

·2-min read
Joseph Black in Sessions at Soho Theatre (The Other Richard)
Joseph Black in Sessions at Soho Theatre (The Other Richard)

Tunde Adeyemi is the kind of man who boasts about how his aesthetic requires regular maintenance at the gym. But recently he’s been struggling to find the motivation to work out. Tunde’s known to get mad excited about birthday cake and going out. But lately he’s found himself weeping, to his dismay, during casual sex.

Sessions follows Tunde, a slightly cocky but well-meaning British-Nigerian man, and his experience of going to therapy in the lead up to his 30th birthday. During the 90-minute one-man drama, it’s for the audience to piece together why he’s experiencing heightened inner turmoil by the time his big birthday milestone arrives.

It’s likely that all of us know at least one man like Tunde who is struggling but hasn’t been able to open up to anyone about it. He has many interactions with his closest friends and family over the phone but none realise the extent of his pain; that he’s had a series of job rejections, is experiencing heartbreak and is running out of money to pay the rent. Tunde’s only face to face interaction is with his therapist, but he frequently battles with whether the sessions are worth his time.

Joseph Black delivers a versatile and heartfelt performance as Tunde at the Soho Theatre’s black box space under the careful direction of Philip Morris. The way in which the changes in his emotional state are punctuated by shifts in the music and lighting is a nice touch by lighting designer Simisola Majekodunmi and sound designer Asaf Zohar.

In one of the play’s bitter scenes, Tunde recalls the time when he sobbed uncontrollably as a child and was reprimanded by his father. “This crying, it’s not something we Adeyemi men do. We are strong.” I wonder how many kids, especially of the African diaspora, would be able to recall a time when they were fed similar harmful messages about masculinity. Ifeyina Frederick’s writing is in its stride when it leans into moments such as this. It ably captures how a father’s disapproval can weigh heavily on a boy’s conscience well into adulthood.

Where the play suffers most is in its pacing. During the therapy sessions, Tunde awkwardly jumps between talking to the therapist and then talking directly to the audience. It’s humorous in parts when Tunde makes gleefully snide comments, but the gag runs out of steam quite quickly and feels disruptive to the overall flow of the performance.

Frederick’s drama is a timely exploration of mental health challenges in black men and serves as an important reminder to check in with those around us.

Soho Theatre, until 4 December; sohotheatre.com

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