You know that feeling, at the end of a show where you are absolutely speechless? That is what Manic Street Creature does, which is a tad ironic for a show that involves a lot of talking and even more singing. It’s a fresh and bittersweet take on modern love, growth and self-discovery using inserts of spoken word, monologue and music. A clash of hopefulness, desire, and tiredness – all contained in just over an hour at Summerhall.
Manic Street Creature is a gorgeous piece of gig theatre. Truly. Each song is threaded by writer and performer Maimuna Memon’s jaw-dropping voice. This is a show that is grounded in reality and emits warmth even though the subject matter is so devastating. Accompanying Memon on stage is Yusuf Memon who switches between drums and the guitar, and also Rachel Barnes on the cello/harmonies. This trio is all that is necessary to tell this story, and boy do they tell it.
The semi-autobiographical plot starts off like any story of an ambitious musician dreaming of making it big – a move to London. Memon plays Ria, a Lancashire lass who arrives in Camden and soon realises that establishing her roots in the capital city will be a lot more difficult than at home. Ria plays unpaid gigs at pubs, and one special night she meets Daniel – a moment that changes her life. At this point, the plot is relatively cookie cutter. It’s familiar, and one that has been done time and time again.
Despite the couple’s difficulties, Ria persists in making their relationship work – she says I love you, they break up, they get back together, and then they move in together. It’s this on-and-off pattern that Memon flickers through in her reflective songs.
Ultimately, the show takes us to a more grim place than we first expected. One that it completely disarming. Somewhere scarier, quieter and one that is difficult to talk about when Ria discovers Daniel’s deteriorating mental health. Despite supporting Daniel to get help for his manic depressive illness, when you think that lows couldn’t dive any deeper – they do. Matching the darker context of the story, the musicality turns dramatic with heavy beats and long pauses just for Ria (and the audience) to breathe.
It becomes more prevalent the toll this all takes on Ria too, and ultimately concludes with Ria getting Daniel the help he needs but also putting herself first when she admits “someone else’s trauma can be traumatising”. Somebody else’s trauma, your own trauma, and also generational trauma – are all explored throughout Manic Street Creature in the most mindful, mature and self-aware way.
Manic Street Creature is a multi-dimensional piece of theatre that shines a light on mental illness and the impacts it has on loved ones. As much as we individualize mental illness, the fact is it does affect those around us – their stories are also worth talking about too. It is a tender story told with the highest level of care. Every single word of Manic Street Creature is intentional, and the story that is told is undeniably authentic.