As the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival returns for its 11th year, Bijli presents a direct, hard hitting play about the way in which childhood trauma affects men in their later lives. Writer Mariem Omari based the play on a series of interviews she conducted from men across Scotland, creating a script with four narratives from four different individuals, each relating a story of how circumstances led to their depression, paranoia and self-harm.
In the intimate venue of the Traverse, the set is entirely empty save the performers and the chalk which actor Manjot Sumal uses to draw on the black floor throughout the production in order to convey words or images which represent the themes that are presented throughout the dialogue.
Although this does draw attention to certain moments in the piece, the exact message or point to this can sometimes be slightly unclear. The play is essentially a series of dramatic monologues woven together as they chop and change between narratives. The plot follows the four unnamed men, who are characterized by their backgrounds which, as Omari seems keen to emphasize, affect almost all aspects of their lives. Drawing across a variety of ethnicities and cultures, Omari presents us with an Irish Catholic, two Scottish Muslims and a Scottish Caucasian.
Omari attempts to highlight the way that these different cultural backgrounds affect these men’s lives in a direct and poignant way. The minimalist set is in direct contrast to the life the four actors manage to give to the piece, using both dialogue and physical theatre to convey traumatic experiences of the racial abuse, homophobia and bullying that, in these cases, lead to drug addiction, self-harm, paranoia and depression. Under Umar Ahmed’s direction, the physicality is well placed with the actors slipping into physical sequences with natural ease, accompanied by appropriate music choices.
Although the narratives remain clear and distinct in the beginning, as the piece develops and the pace increases, the chopping and changing begins to become slightly hectic. The monologues aren’t given enough time to develop properly, meaning that our understanding of the character’s thoughts and feelings can at times feel quite superficial. This can make a real empathetic connection difficult which becomes evident as the actors begin to jump their cues, and it is as if they are each rushing to perform their own piece out of context with the others.
Comedic bursts were often used well within the piece to lighten the mood, and at others to heighten a darker moment. However, these comedic twists seem out of place and slightly disturbing, taking away from what could have been more sensitive and touching moments.
Overall, the cast deliver a strong and heartfelt piece, exploring the problems of culture, stereotype and masculinity and how they affect men across Scotland and the rest of the world.
Photo Credit: Mihaela Bodlovic