Mark Ludmon reviews Maimuna Memon’s Edinburgh Fringe hit Manic Street Creature after its transfer to Southwark Playhouse Borough in London
Manic Street Creature
Southwark Playhouse Borough, London
Heading into Maimuna Memon’s Manic Street Creature, audiences are warned to expect references to mental health, with resources available for anyone affected. So it is no surprise that this is an intense trip through the highs and lows of a relationship between two musicians who are each fighting their own demons.
Written and performed by Memon herself, it is a mesmerising piece of storytelling, interwoven with a stunning, soulful playlist of string-led songs. They are beautifully scored with accompaniment from Rachel Barnes on cello and Harley Johnston on percussion, although the trio’s sound also draws on guitars, keyboard and harmonium.
Premiering in Edinburgh last year, the show went on to win accolades including The Mental Health Award, reflecting its insightful representation of mental illness and psychology. As narrator, Memon plays Ria, a young woman who comes to London from Lancashire to develop a career in music. She falls for another musician, Daniel, but it emerges he is struggling with bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, leading to a rollercoaster of emotions for both of them.
The story tackles common questions faced by many people with experience of mental illness. How much of your personality and drive is lost when you take medication? How can people with mental health problems maintain relationships? What is the impact on the carers and family of those with mental health issues? It is also about Ria’s journey of self-discovery, examining how she has been affected by growing up without a father in her life. Framed as Ria laying down tracks in a studio, it also presents the difficult truth that artistic creativity often comes out of anguish and mental illness.
In spite of the serious subject matter, Memon injects charm and humour into the storytelling, working with director Kirsty Patrick Ward. It is performed in the round – as it was in Paines Plough’s Roundabout tent at Summerhall in 2022 – adding to the intimacy and power of this haunting piece of gig theatre.
At Southwark Playhouse Borough to 11 November 2023.