Lyric Hammersmith, London
Written and directed by Melina Namar and Jessica Manu
In 2011 Beyoncé Knowles proclaimed in a mightily catchy hook that girls run the world, a far cry of course from James Brown's 1966 declaration that "This is a man’s world”. Whatever the truth of the matter, fast forward to 2017 and everyone seems to be a little bit lost. The topic of gender seems to continually be at the forefront of our cultural narrative, with the ever-shifting paradigm of what it truly means to be a man or a woman or indeed neither, in the modern era.
So it was that under the Lyric Hammersmith’s Open Mic banner and for one night only, Melina Namdar and Jessica Manu offered a fascinating glimpse into bringing these complex issues to the surface. Featuring a series of short, modern scenarios facing both men and women, the evening ranged from such first-world tribulations as swiping through Tinder, to the harder hitting and more volatile issues of abortion and rape. There was much here to fuel provocative thought and debate.
Overall, the show was a mixed bag. Some moments were harrowingly true and effective, hitting the right notes in terms of both gravitas and comedic astuteness. Elsewhere however, aspects seemed slightly contrived though this may well derive from the piece’s structure, compressing enormous issues into tantalisingly brief performance windows. X&Y clearly has a powerful message but it needs to expand its characters’ story lines and give more context to their plight as individuals.
What was undeniable however was the young performing talent that gives the play its authenticity and energy. Michael Ajih’s honest portrayal of a young man who suffers a traumatic event and is subsequently confronted by a therapist to talk about his experience, has an incredible impact. The hesitation and build up as he overcame his reluctance to talk, was both moving and credible.
Another stand out performance was Thea Mayeux as a woman confronted with a manipulative and ultimately bad apple of a partner, whose true colours are revealed when she informs him that she’s pregnant. Mayeux’s ability to convey emotional distress with a simple yet effective glazed look in her eyes as she realised her dire situation was immense. A captivating performance that left a considerable impression.
Melina Namar and Jessica Manu have put together a stellar group of young actors and created a piece of theatre that asks questions and explores issues, rarely depicted on stage. If X&Y is any indicator to go by, look out for their future productions.
Reviewed by Josh Kemp