Writer: Dipo Baruwa-Etti
Director: Taio Lawson
Modern healthcare knows a lot more about depression than it used to. But before medical and psychological responses to someone’s poor mental health, people turned to what might dismissively be described as superstition – faith-based explanations, from curses to demonic possession.
In Dipo Barruwa-Etti’s An Unfinished Man, reactions to the depression of East Londoner Kayode (Fode Simbo) straddle these old and new responses. His wife Kikiope (Teri Ann Bobb-Baxter) implores him to seek medical help and counselling. Meanwhile, his mother (Lucy Vandi) has a response formulated both in her evangelical Christianity and much older faith systems, believing Kayode to have been cursed as a baby in her native Nigeria.
Elevating this faith-versus-science dichotomy is the decision to personify the clouds in Kayode’s soul in the form of Selina Jones’s Itan. Ever present, sometimes she fades into the background, sometimes so dominant that Kayode cannot focus on, or interact with, anyone or anything else.
Director Taio Lawson takes Baruwa-Etti’s script description that Kayode “stands in an ocean with everyone else on the shore”, and stages it as a circular baptismal pool in which Simbo wades throughout. The effect is to further add to the sense that Kayode is in a pit of despair that prevents him from fully interacting with his loved ones.
Baruwa-Etti injects rivulets of humour through what would otherwise risk becoming a dour piece. Nowhere is this more evident than in the interactions between Simbo and Jones, as Itan and Kayode verbally wrestle each other for dominance. Whatever the cause of Itan’s presence in Kayode’s life, the play suggests, it is a part of Kayode; sometimes love, sometimes something much worse.
Perhaps the most striking moment comes early on when Kayode’s mother and her new pastor, Matanmi (Mark Springer) attempt an exorcism. The impact this has upon Itan is visceral. The impact of prayer upon the demon suggests that just because modern medicine has its own ways of treating depression, the belief systems it supersedes are not without their own benefits.
Perhaps the least well-served character in an otherwise tightly crafted script is Bobb-Baxter’s Kikiope, who often feels like she is in scenes to provide conflict rather than having her own personality. But what Bobb-Baxter does convey well is the exhaustion of a woman who has had to deal with her husband’s condition for years and is struggling to continue.
Baruwa-Etti has crafted a unique presentation of depression and one man’s attempts to escape from his own pit. In doing so, he has created both a compelling play and an indication that there is much more to come from this writer.
Continues until 12 March 2022