Manic Street Creature

Book, music and lyrics by Maimuna Memon
Southwark Playhouse and Maimuna Memon
Southwark Playhouse Borough

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Maimuna Memon Credit: Ali Wright
Maimuna Memon Credit: Ali Wright
Maimuna Memon Credit: Ali Wright
Rachel Barnes (on cello) Harley Johnston Credit: Ali Wright
Rachel Barnes and Maimuna Memon Credit: Ali Wright
The cast Credit: Ali Wright

Manic Street Creature returned home from last year’s Edinburgh Fringe clutching a Fringe First Award, The Mental Health Award and a Stage Award for Acting, and a batch of four- and five-star reviews.

Within minutes of Maimuna Memon’s concept album show starting, you can see why it so enthused previous audiences with its stunning singing, superbly played score and revealing storyline.

Nine tracks interspersed with short episodes of narration form the lifespan of a relationship between two musicians. It is a story of love, endurance and pain as Ria comes to suffer from secondary traumatic stress as a result of looking after her partner, Daniel.

A disorder that many outside the caring professions will never have heard of, it is the damaging by-product of over-exposure to the trauma experienced by another person.

Memon, who has written the music, lyrics and book for the show, also takes the lead, Ria, whom she has made an earthy angel.

This is a tender portrait of someone who cannot do other than care for Daniel under persistently difficult circumstances, and whose confidently sweary outward persona is worn down by the force of it, leaving cracks through which emerge her own vulnerabilities.

Memon brings to the role a voice that has the beautiful clarity of crystal without any of its sharp, harsher edges; she is also charismatic and a prodigiously talented musician.

As composer, her score is varied and the orchestrations cleverly profit from the mournful calls of the cello played thoughtfully by Rachel Barnes with accompaniment from Harley Johnston, principally displaying his talent on drums.

For an achingly sad story, the book is softly comic in places and, although it lacks polish, its simplicity doesn’t harm the show which seeks to bring to the stage a song cycle that would be equally suited to audio-only consumption.

Now having a run at London's Southwark Playhouse where it is performed in-the-round at the Borough venue’s Large space, the staging is the show’s only shortcoming.

A cramped, rug-strewn space defined by a circle of instruments and microphone stands marks out the record studio setting that frames the storytelling. With Barnes and Johnston by necessity planted around the edge, it is left to Memon’s Ria to make all the running for the injection of physical action in a theatre show whose realisation is tethered with that of an album, conjoining two media that operate on a different balance of senses.

It is a challenging contradiction without the additional limitations of confined in-the-round staging. They come to a particular head when Memon kneels to play the hand pump harmonium for the final song for the most part hidden from view at the least appropriate moment.

Manic Street Creature nonetheless remains captivating thanks to Memon, who is the heart of this part-show-part-album creation that succeeds in being both raw and crafted.

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti

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