Review by Daz Gale
Fresh from wowing audiences in Standing At The Sky’s Edge this year, Maimuma Memon returns to the stage to once again showcase her many talents, this time with the return of her critically acclaimed show Manic Street Creature (not to be confused with the similarly named band). With an intriguing premise that aims to blur the lines between different industries and bring something new to theatre, would London audiences be able to tolerate this?
In a bid to bridge the gap between music and theatre, Maimuma has gone one further than a gig musical by taking the audience in to the recording sessions instead. Described as a concept album musical, Manic Street Creature lets the audience in as as Ria recounts the love story of two musicians as they struggle to navigate their relationship through mental health problems. There is no shortage of theatricality here though with songs being interrupted and reprised throughout as the story is described in a speedy 75 minutes that flies by in an instant.
Maimuna Memon demonstrates what a master she is in the field of storytelling with her exceptionally descriptive writing skillfully painting the scene. The amount of character building and exposition she accomplishes in such a short space of time is a real testament to the strong writing on offer. Raw and heartfelt, Manic Street Creature effortlessly takes the audience on a journey, all the while never leaving the confines of the recording studio. It is this miraculous feat that makes the writing here so superb, furthered by the themes at play.
Mental health is at the heart of Manic Street Creature, taking a brutally realistic look at what it’s like to suffer from mental health problems as well as, refreshingly, what it is like from the perspective of the person who has to care and support for them, taking in the rarely discussed secondary traumatic stress. Written during the pandemic when many of us struggled with our own mental health, Maimuna has touched on an issue that is still a prominent part of many of our lives, be it our own or that of someone we care for. The way this is done with sensitivity but not holding anything back for fear of shocking is part of the reason Manic Street Creature excels in the way it does. It may not be an easy watch at times but it is an important one.
Though the subject matter may be heavy, the music that makes up Manic Street Creature is deeply accessible and enjoyable throughout. Displaying a clever use of storytelling, Maimuna’s lyrics always impress while the music itself is infectious. From the earworm opening ‘On My Way’ to the often reprised ‘Set This House On Fire’, there’s not a dud track to be found here. Successfully bridging the gap, you do feel like you are listening to an album from start to finish while the action plays out in front of you which creates a type of performance I hadn’t experienced before. Joined on stage by Rachel Barnes and Harley Johnston, the three brilliantly bring the songs to life in a cramped space with nowhere to hide.
Maimuna’s performance is every bit as marvellous as her writing in a performance full of urgency and horror as she relives some of the more trying times that make up the story. An absolutely remarkable performer, she manages a sense of intimacy which feels like she is telling the story to you and you alone in the kind of connection you don’t often see in the theatre. Always compelling to watch, Maimuna ensures her words are delivered with an impact that won’t leave your mind in a hurry.
The direction from Kirsty Patrick Ward exposes the material in the best possible way taking over the larger space of Southwark Playhouse Borough and surrounding the three performers on every side to create the intimacy that makes Manic Street Creature so captivating to watch. With stunning lighting from Jamie Platt and crystal clear sound design from Sam Clarkson, this is a production where every element allows for Maimuna’s material to shine in the best possible way.
Manic Street Creature brings something new to theatre in a show like no other I can recall. Unique doesn’t necessarily mean it is good though – luckily that isn’t a problem here. Maimuna’s writing connects with such force, I couldn’t have shaken it from my mind long after I left the theatre even if I wanted to. With a performance every bit as phenomenal as her writing, she has created a truly special show and one that has an important message to tell. Hopefully shedding a light on aspects of mental health that are rarely discussed, this is a show with the ability to resonate with some and educate others. Truly a world-class performance, Manic Street Creature is a wonderful piece of theatre.
Manic Street Creature plays at Southwark Playhouse Borough until 11th November Tickets from www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk