One Mississippi, Traverse Theatre

By guest critic Liam Rees

One Mississippi is a delicate and poignant piece of verbatim theatre, created by Bjili as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival, specifically bringing to light mental health issues affecting men. Although not necessarily a new topic to explore, one of the standout elements of One Mississippi is its commitment to exploring this issue from a genuinely diverse group of men.

The show aims to recognise the universal similarities between us all. On a personal level, it was enlightening to see a young, gay Muslim man with questions and fears I also had as a young man growing up in a Catholic community. If theatre’s aim is to provoke empathy then the creative team have definitely succeeded.

As with most verbatim pieces, it’s difficult to know what exactly to credit to writer Mariem Omari Her script deftly weaves together these four men’s stories and touches on a variety of issues contributing to and surrounding mental health without ever labouring the point. 

Aided by Umar Ahmed’s direction, the company of actors recount their stories and experiences of feeling like an outsider in their homes and society with a nice balance of honesty, pathos and humour. Manjot Sumal’s chalk drawings on the floor of Traverse 2 throughout the piece constantly remind us of his childhood and the possibility of happiness and creativity, suppressed and trampled on by patriarchal ideals of emotionally stunted masculinity. Crucially the piece highlights through character development, rather than a simple lecture style, how structural issues in society such as homophobia, racism and toxic masculinity contribute individual problems of self-harm, drug abuse and fractured relationships.

As well as performing their own separate monologues, the company of actors take on multiple roles and contribute elements of physical theatre to the performance. This helps keep the energy up and reinforces the idea of these individuals being part of a wider community that, consciously or not, contributes to their personal issues. At times the intercutting monologues makes it difficult to keep track of whose story we are following but, more importantly, the cumulative effect is that we really understand that these aren’t isolated incidents. These are issues that all of us, as society, have to recognise and address.

One, Mississippi runs through 12 October.

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