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The Yard’s An Unfinished Man: intense exploration into juju (magic) as a cure for mental illness

The Yard’s An Unfinished Man: intense exploration into juju (magic) as a cure for mental illness

Packed into 60 minutes, this show centres around Kayode (Fode Simbo) who finds himself stuck in life- after successful studies and despite years of applications he cannot get a job, and literally stuck- in centre stage in a shallow pool.

(Photo: Camilla Greenwell)

Directed by Taio Lawson, the play paints a vivid picture of what it means to be Black and jobless. Kayode has been married to his wife, Kikiope (Teri Ann Bobb-Baxter), for seven years. The show begins with Kikiope being offered a promotion in ‘digital’, as the pressure mounts on Kayode, he becomes increasingly focused on breaking the ‘curse’ preventing him from success.

After a visit from pastor Matanmi (Mark Springer) who was sent by Kayode’s mother, Layo (Luci Vandi), Kayode is convinced that a curse has ‘festered’ inside him since childhood. Determined to save his marriage, Kayode submits to an exorcism. Baruwa-Etti’s wit shines through the scene as Matanmi states, “You were cursed, but it can be rendered null and void.”

Stalking the stage is Itan (Selina Jones), the physical embodiment of his curse. “I am history” repeats the possessing spirit, whether she is real, imagined, or symbolic, there is no escape for Kayode. Amongst the chanting she and Kayode communicate in a cryptic language of their own, Itan’s protest acts against the capitalist London society that associates productivity with worth, and she resembles a force of resistance against the Christian morality of Kayode’s family.

Kayode and Itan (Photo: Camilla Greenwell)

Soon, Kayode is literally wrestling with his demon, whose physicality is eerily mesmerising. Her hands become fluid and resemble claws, weaving in and out of Kayode’s body whilst his lower half remains submerged in what doubles as a baptismal pool. All the while, Itan is tending to and arranging vases of yellow flowers around the pool, adding to the peculiarity and uneasiness we already feel.

The play delicately touches on what it means to be of dual heritage, history and colonialism being a Black person Britain, and the way contemporary life impacts mental health. Baruwa-Etti’s has an ability to delve into societal issues without the show being too heavy.

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Rosie Elnile’s set design nails the dream-like eccentric world of the play: the hidden entrance and exit points, lush textures and constant splashing and whirling of the pool transform the Yard Theatre into a mysterious space of exorcisms and rituals. 

The Unfinished Man by Dipo Baruwa-Etti’s is by no means “unfinished”, it is a thoughtful piece that makes us think about mental illness and magic, beautifully acted.

For more information and tickets, click here.