At rise, four men lie on the stage. Sleeping, resting, relaxed, peaceful. One Mississippi holds this calm for several minutes at its start before they cycle quickly into speech, beginning their stories, of their upbringings and their tribulations. The pace does not let up from there, making for a dynamic, unforgettable and surprisingly funny show.
Drawn from interviews with men across Scotland, Mariem Omari, writer and co-director of Bijli Productions, has created four distinctive voices discussing how they got to the present points in their lives. They come from different backgrounds yet each of them have so much in common: fear of alcoholic fathers, pressure from parents, ostracising by peers, unable to shake their otherness or their perceived faults. The consequences of these being anxiety, self-harming, drug abuse. Some of these experiences are harrowing but it is testament to the men themselves that so much of it is also funny. That humour is indicative of a self-awareness that has been hard fought for, and the four actors embody it brilliantly.
No costume changes, no props – bar a piece of chalk that marks the floor with signs and symbols from the stories – but a rotating cast of supporting, and not-so-supporting, characters are brought to life by the cast of four. They run circles round each other, dance, mirror their parents and abusers and lovers. It is credit to the actors and director, co-director of Bijli Productions, Umar Ahmed, that the physicality of the show is, at times, breathtaking but doesn’t veer into something too slick or over choreographed, making for an immediate and visceral experience.
The structure is bold and does not offer any easy solutions to the specific challenges facing men’s mental health but it is not without hope, clearly laying out its character’s desires, obstacles and frustrations. Not an easy watch but definitely rewarding, One Mississippi is a must-see portrait of contemporary masculinity in Scotland.
by Emily Benita
Talking Heads reporter Emily Benita is a writer and performer who lives in Glasgow with her cat called Malcolm Tucker. She manages her depression and anxiety through a combination of medication, counselling and art, liberally applied. Tweets at @BenitaEmily.
Book now for One Mississippi, showing at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh until Thu 12 Oct, before moving to the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow on 13-14 Oct.