by Laura Kressly
At Ria’s first gig after moving to London to work as a musician, she is captivated by an Irish bartender, Daniel. They soon develop an intensely unhealthy, co-dependent relationship where she wants to fix him and he struggles to survive a debilitating mental illness. Using music to document their relationship, her feelings towards her absent father and living down south, this soulful gig-theatre show conveys her all-consuming experience with gentleness and a big heart.
It’s clear that Ria has a deep reservoir of love for Dan that she often loses herself in. The music and lyrics by Maimuna Memon, who plays Ria, effectively capture this as well as her pain, anger and frustration that comes with loving someone so sick. She has made entire experience into an album, the recording of which provides a metatheatrical framing device. It’s comforting to know that Ria came out the other side early on given the way her and Dan’s story unfolds.
Though Memon voices Dan throughout the piece, more of his perspective would provide deeper insight into their relationship, and his direct experience with mental illness. Ria’s is certainly valid, though given Dan was also part of her band for awhile there’s scope to include him more when his stakes are particularly high. The other two musicians onstage, who say little, could easily take on this role in the short, narrative sequences between the songs.
However, the show as it stands feels complete, with a comprehensive collection of tunes and a detailed story that skilfully tracks Ria’s difficult but compelling journey within her relationship. It’s also a moving and important focus on intergenerational trauma, and the effects of poor mental health not just on the person who suffers from it, but those who love them.
Manic Street Creature runs through 28 August.
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