“an astonishing performance, funny and vulnerable, hard-hitting and eloquent”
Y’MAM (an acronym for Young Man’s Angry Movements) is in good company, another in a spate of plays about toxic masculinity and its effects on men’s mental health, among them the five-star-reviewed For Black Boys… Of course, it’s no surprise that there is so much recent discussion on the subject, given its relevance and societal urgency. But how is Y’MAM supposed to stand out from the crowd?
Writer and performer Luke Jerdy chooses humour. But it’s not just that he’s funny, rather he finds and forces humour even in the darkest moments. Sure, we’re laughing at his impression of his giddy therapist, but we’re still laughing when he’s lighting his 13-year-old classmate’s hair on fire; when, having knocked someone out cold, Jerdy’s run away from the scene, leaving a friend to take the blame. We know it’s not funny, but we’re experiencing it via his own coping mechanisms of minimising and diverting, making it impossible to stare po-faced and earnestly at the problem.
The story keeps a pace with a largely rhyming spoken-word delivery, and if it’s all about to get a bit too self-reflective, Jerdy jumps in with a song and a rap. It’s a tricky balancing act, because ultimately you don’t want to go so far into light entertainment that the point of the story is lost. But it’s this very fine balance that makes it such an effective story-telling tool. The grim details are all there for us to see, we’re just ingesting them via jokes and songs, uncomfortable as the juxtaposition sometimes is.
Projected photos and clipart-style videos are effective in keeping the audience’s eye roving just enough that Jerdy doesn’t have to take the entire 80-minute hit. They’re a bit basic, and at some points unnecessary, but they hardly take away from the power of the piece.
Wearing a light-coloured tracksuit, you can literally see how hard Jerdy is working on that stage from the sweat pouring through; running laps around the stage, jumping like a gorilla, rapping and dancing and playing every character he encounters with equal verve throughout. It’s an astonishing performance, funny and vulnerable, hard-hitting and eloquent. An excellent addition to the conversation, and, hopefully, a very liberating and cathartic story for some.
“the rip-roaring finale in the church brought the audience to its feet in an explosion of cheers and applause”
This is Iris Theatre’s 10th season in the gardens of St. Paul’s Church in Covent Garden. They produce two shows over the course of the summer – a Shakespeare and a family show – and this year’s swashbuckling adventure from 17th century France is a perfect confection for a family night out in London on a summer’s evening. The action takes place in three different playing arenas in the gardens themselves, and also moves into the church. Although moving between locations couldn’t help but slow things down a bit, the delight of the different mise-en-scènes more than made up for it, and the rip-roaring finale in the church brought the audience to its feet in an explosion of cheers and applause.
Dumas’ original novel is a behemoth of a book, and credit must go to Daniel Winder, Iris Theatre’s Artistic Director, for distilling it into a largely comprehensible two hour play. The younger children in the audience would certainly have found elements of the story confusing, in particular differentiating between the the national conflict – England vs France – and the French religious conflict – Catholic vs Huguenot – but the pursuit of the Queen’s diamonds was a good thread for them to follow, with excellent visual cues to help them through the more labyrinthine plot developments. Paul-Ryan Carberry’s sure-handed direction steered a steady course throughout, using elements of slapstick and pantomime with a deft touch to balance the darker themes and more baroque plot twists. In addition, Winder’s decision to turn d’Artagnan into a woman worked brilliantly, and the young female musketeer was a fantastic counterpoint to the magnificently malevolent Milady, played with immense hauteur and brio by Ailsa Joy.
Working in the open air in the middle of Central London is immensely challenging for an actor, and the predominantly young cast attacked the task with relish, and they were aided too by Adam Welsh’s excellent sound design. Inevitably, many of the performances were painted with pretty broad strokes – open air theatre is rarely the place to go for subtlety and nuance – but there was a terrific ensemble spirit, and some excellent multi-role work too, particularly from the charismatic Stephan Boyce (Planchet/Treville/Rochefort/Lord Winter) and the splendidly entertaining Elliot Liburd (Porthos/King of France).
Finally, special mention must go to Roger Bartlett, the production’s fight director. No evening spent in the company of the musketeers would be complete without some serious sword play, and Iris Theatre did not disappoint in this regard. There is something rather wonderful about hearing the church clock striking and seeing the garden’s white roses glowing in the dusk, whilst watching a mighty clash of swords, and knowing that 21st century London nightlife continues all around. A unique treat; there to be savoured.