Much is made of the musical theatre triple threat. But the combination of actor, singer, and writer should be equally lauded and it is this combination which Maimuna Memon showcases to stunning effect in her gig musical Manic Street Creature. Fresh from an Oliver-nominated turn in Standing At The Sky’s Edge, Memon has brought Manic Street Creature, directed by Kirsty Patrick Ward and itself the winner of several awards during its Edinburgh Fringe run in 2022, to the Southwark Playhouse Borough for a three week run.
In the show, Memon’s character Ria is recording an album inspired by her move to London and tumultuous relationship with fellow musician Daniel. As she records, she recounts the story of this relationship, the initial optimism fading into something darker as she begins to feel the impact of Daniel’s spiralling mental health. This throws up parallels to Ria’s relationship with her estranged father, and she learns not only about the toll which supporting a loved one through a mental health crisis can take, but about her own coping mechanisms and relationship patterns.
The tale is told in lyrical and affecting language, and Memon’s delivery only enhances the poetry of the words. It does not shy away from the difficult topics which it covers, nor does it attempt to resolve any of the issues neatly by the end of the show. The music is intended both to function as a believable studio album and as a catalyst for the plot, and in large part it succeeds in this, only edging a little too far into exposition in some of the later numbers as the plot advances.
The songs themselves range from catchy opening number On My Way to haunting finale Souls on the Precipice, with many powerful emotional numbers in the setlist. Titular track Manic Street Creature and quietly powerful Absent Father were clear standouts, while On My Way is an undeniable ear-worm. Memon has musical support from Rachel Barnes and Harley Johnston, and Barnes also plays a number of supporting roles, including therapist Dr Collins and a disgruntled cat cafe owner. But largely the stage is Memon’s and she owns it throughout, provoking both tears and laughter from her audience.
The show is performed in the round, allowing Memon to connect with more of her audience, and movement direction from Ira Mandela Siobhan as well as the placement of her numerous instruments sees her regularly circling the stage, throwing piercing looks into the crowd. The staging itself from designer Libby Watson is simple other than the clutter of instruments, although arguably removing the numerous rugs which cover the floor would make the space better resemble a recording studio. Lighting design by Jamie Platt adds atmosphere, particularly in the later scenes where Daniel’s mental health crisis and its toll on Ria’s own mental health come to a head, with frenetic lighting changes often used to underscore the intense emotion playing out on stage.
Sound direction from Sam Clarkson for Sound Quiet Time also adds additional layers to the production, enabling us to better glimpse the world outside of the recording studio and transporting us into Ria’s world. However, sometimes the overlap of music and speech needed some adjustment, as the spoken lines were at times difficult to catch.
Manic Street Creature is a gig musical with an important message which will linger with audiences long after they leave the theatre. Memon takes us on a journey through the piece and we, like Ria, are changed by the end of it. Manic Street Creature runs at Southwark Playhouse Borough until 11 November. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.
AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review