Saturated in soft VHS haze, a teenage boy stands among a heckling crowd of his peers, anticipating his moment in the spotlight. The music kicks in and he launches into a giddy performance, frantically rapping along to the beat while his hands flicker and dart about before him like he’s swatting flies, the cringeful confidence of adolescent bravado. While the video plays out above, a lone performer stands on the stage and mimics the movements, but this one’s older, a man playing at being a boy, playing at being a man.
In its first moments, Majid Mehdizadeh’s Y’MAM lays its’ themes bare for the audience to see. The show, written by Mehdizadeh with direction and sound design by Adam Welsh, is a work of autofiction that draws from Mehdizadeh’s own life and his experiences dealing with outburst of rage. The story pulls at the threads of the writer’s childhood traumas and adolescent misdeeds in an attempt to unravel the source of the blind fury that lives inside him. A fury he is afraid of, yet sometimes shamefully excited to release, revelling in the freedom of the other self that he becomes.
The untangling of Mehdizadeh’s multiple selves extends beyond what takes place on stage, with the production playing a subtle metatextual game in show’s programme. Majid Mehdizadeh is credited as the playwright, while the performer is an actor called Luke Jerdy. Luke Jerdy and Majid Mehdizadeh are in fact one and the same, Jerdy being the anglicised stage name Mehdizadeh was credited under in his four-year stint in the cast of Hollyoaks.
The delineation of the writer Mehdizadeh and the performer Jerdy feels deliberate, with its meaning left deliberately ambiguous. The double-billing isn’t directly commented on in the show and is a detail that many might miss. It could be that the separation is the writer distancing himself from the vulgarities of his past, as Mehdizadeh pushes forwards from past mistakes, he keeps Jerdy like a human shield on his back. Or perhaps Mehdizadeh is the more constructed self, an intellectual projection allowing Jerdy to step outside of himself and pick apart his id with a forensic gaze.
The reconciliation of his selves is the ultimate goal of the story; Jerdy sees his anger as a wild ape that needs to be exercised and cared for to stop it lashing out at others. He makes peace with his animal companion and the responsibility he has for it, making amends with the damage it’s done and the relationships it’s sabotaged in the past. By taking responsibility he hopes to break the cycle of neglectful carers and emotionally absent fathers who’ve let their own apes loose on the world.
That opening image of a boy rapping for his friends carries through the show, with the sense that maybe the audience is watching the ultimate realisation of that performance. The child’s creative energy finally given an outlet, his need for recognition legitimised with a full stage production. The script slips back and forth into rhyme and fully realised musical interludes with sound by Adam Welsh and Zee Musiq, while the dynamic lighting and stage design of Kirsty Barlow exteriorises the character’s overwhelming emotions as joy summons a dazzling nightclub and anger snaps the spotlight into sharp tunnel vision.
Jerdy’s performance is a marvel of fluidity, both in the physical sense as he dances about the stage, and the way that he slips between moments in his character’s life. When adults play children on stage, the quality of their performance can be the make or break component in a shows’ verisimilitude. An unconvincing performance distracts from the reality of the piece. When Jardy relives moments from his youth, our awareness of the fact that he’s performing only enhances the point being made: that so often insecure adult men are playing at being what their adolescent selves believed an adult to be.
Y’MAM: Young Man’s Angry Movements plays at Liverpool Everyman until 26 June. More info here.