Writer and performer Yomi Sode talks us through his new production, learning shocking truths about his friends and why we don’t open up to those who are closest to us

YOMI Sode says his show Coat explores “what happens when the elephant in the room is spotted”.

We all have topics we skirt around and leave untouched.

We might think it’s just easier that way, less awkward, less likely to cause tensions between us and those close to us.

As Yomi adds, you can open a “can of worms” by delving into certain issues.

This theme permeates Coat, a play that revolves around a young man, Junior (played by Yomi) who has African origins but lives in London.

As he cooks a pot of stew for his mother – Yomi literally whips the dish up on stage – Junior tries to find out more about her past in Nigeria.

Junior’s grandmother has recently died, but Junior is less than keen on travelling to Africa to attend the funeral of a women he barely knew.

“I don’t know my grandparents’ names but I can name all of Kanye’s albums” he says at one point during the show.

Coat seeks to examine how much we actually know about our loved ones. A number of incidents in Yomi’s life inspired the production – some of them harrowing.

Talking about his own reluctance to tell his mother about parts of his life, he reveals a particularly disturbing example.

“I don’t want to talk to my mum about being in a club when a guy got stabbed and died,” says Yomi.

“I don’t want to tell her that for the best part of that month, life felt different.

“I don’t want to tell her I’ve seen the process of someone dying. It would freak her out, so I protect her by not telling her.

“Whereas she protects me by not telling me about her childhood in Nigeria.”

It seems a bizarre kind of mutual agreement, but we all have similar unwritten pacts with our friends and family.

“It’s like you know something is there, but you don’t want to acknowledge it,” says Yomi.

“There are always these odd conversations you want to have but don’t have – it lies dormant.”

To give another poignant instance of this, one of Yomi’s closest childhood friends was recently sentenced to 18 years in jail.

Yomi attended the trial and sentencing, and what he heard astounded him.

“I’ve known him since I was 11, I’m godfather to his kid, and I found out loads of information I never knew about him,” he says.

“It made me realise I can be having day to day conversations with people and not know anything about them.

“My friend could easily have told me ‘this is what my childhood was like, I need help with certain things’ but instead I’m left thinking ‘what did we actually talk about?’

“Did we just talk total **** all the time?’”

Yomi, like Junior, moved to England from Nigeria when he was a young child.

The juxtaposition between the luxury of choice he experiences in London and the bare essentials of life in Africa is an important paradox in Coat.

Yomi points out that things that would be causes for anxiety in the Western world are mere necessary evils in less affluent corners of the globe.

“There are norms that an African man just has to be aware of and deal with,” he says.

“Through a Western lens, though, those things might cause a lot of pressure.

“In African culture they’re just rites of passage.

“Nigeria goes through huge power cuts, for instance – I once went three days without electricity.

That makes me aware of some of the privileges I have in London and how fortunate I am to have them.”

In Coat, Junior knows that delving back into his family’s history could be a potential trigger for anxiety.

He might hear something that shocks him, even makes him re-evaluate who he is.

It’s the same with his grandmother’s funeral. There is a vague social obligation to attend but Junior, a fully grown man, can say no if he wants to.

It’s a question of family, and whether blood ties should take ultimate priority in your life, no matter what your actual relationship with any given family member might be.

“I don’t know your life, but it’s like when your parents say ‘let’s go and visit so and so’ – you might not personally want to do that but you feel compelled to,” says Yomi.

“You’re interviewing me for this show, and that might not be top of your priorities, but for the purpose of the work it’s a necessary evil,” he adds.

It’s not, I assure him.

“I have that process in the mornings when I wake up for work thinking ‘I’m tired today, I don’t want to go’ – but I’ve got rent to pay.

“We don’t sign up for these things but we have to do them” (Yomi’s day job is in family services, spending time with young teenagers with the end goal of encouraging them to return to school).

Junior’s thinking around going back to Nigeria for the funeral is that “I am an adult so I can make decisions for myself – I can say no”.

Yomi made his name as something between a poet and spoken word artist, showcasing his natural talent for performance on YouTube and various festivals.

His work always possesses a poetic quality, but it has taken on a more theatrical element of late.

He has many lines to remember in Coat but he says the hardest part of it is working out how to time the cooking of the stew.

“The first time I tried to do it on stage the food was burnt by the time I got to the scene where I return to the pot,” he laughs.

“We had to include moments in the show which allow me to make sure the water doesn’t dry out and that the scent of the stew is reaching every nostril in the audience.”

Yomi has literally suffered for his art in the course of creating Coat. “I cut myself many times by accident,” he says.

“People in the crowd are looking at me in shock, thinking ‘you’re actually using a legit, real knife’.”

As painful as that sounds, the spilling of blood seems a fitting metaphor for Coat.

Yomi has really given himself to this production.

While it’s not strictly autobiographical, his experiences – and that of those close to him – are crucial ingredients in the show.

Perhaps after watching it we’ll all be compelled to ask more questions of our friends and family, to ensure there are no more elephants in the room.


Brighthelm Centre, Thursday, May 10, and Friday 11, 7.30pm, brightonfestival.org