Photography: Brian Roberts

Y'MAM: Young Man's Angry Movements

Everyman Theatre 17/6/21

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Fist clenched, jaw set and eyes wide, Luke Jerdy holds us for a moment, teetering on the edge of an attack. It’s the deadly calm before a storm. He’s built the tension, describing the thick black tar rising from his gut, his arm pulled back ready to swing and there, he stops, looks up and addresses us with a manic glint: “I’ve been triggered.”

Y’MAM is a one-man tour de force taking us for a ride through the unadulterated highs and uncontrollable depths of male violence, bravado and challenges of identity. Written and acted by Majid Mehdizadeh, with the performance credited to his stage name, Luke Jerdy, this confessional is at once deeply personal and painfully universal.

Grainy footage of a group of jeering, laughing teenage lads beams above the stage. Mehdizadeh swaggers on in a hooded tracksuit, mirroring the jerky, fronting movements of one boy preparing to spit lines to the building beat. He bursts forth, laying out the premise of his work: “There has to be an intro to the problem, or the problem wouldn’t exist.”

The problem – toxic masculinity – is something he wants to dissect so that he can gain control over his own violence-driven existence. The challenge, however, is seeing the problem in the first place. And it’s the raw reality of how slow and unwilling Mehdizadeh’s own process of waking up to this problem was that makes this production truly arresting.

We are swept into Mehdizadeh’s masculine world of noise, hype and banter through a combination of audio, visual and physical immersion. He regales us with stories of alcohol, drugs and fights: found fights, looked-for fights, defensive fights. He claims his sense of justice, self-sufficiency and protective instinct towards his girlfriend are central to his identity and are why people love him. The absurdity is obvious and grating; but that’s the point. Mehdizadeh wants us to see and feel the power of his self-deception as self-protection.

Rap and spoken word serve throughout as an acceptable male art form for the expression of vulnerability

Flashing back and forth between snippets of therapy and vignettes of adolescent incidents, young man’s fury and self-destruction – as well as very funny moments of inflated hubris – Mehdizadeh reveals to himself and his audience the importance of allowing ourselves to be flawed and multifaceted. In his self-discovery, he builds a rhyme about his inner, aggression-led ape: “The art of me is to catch my chimpanzee and give him sympathy.”

This kind of rap and spoken word serve throughout as an acceptable male art form for the expression of vulnerability, feelings and revelations. Adam Welsh and Zee Musiq support with perfectly pitched sound design, evoking environments and emotions alike, moving this one-man show through place and mind.

Revelation doesn’t truly hit, however, until Mehdizadeh confronts his trigger. It’s a playful and powerful term, with male violence so often being the trigger for others’ trauma. Yet here violence is the devastating outcome of Mehdizadeh suppressing his own trauma. It isn’t until he acknowledges the damage that other damaged males have passed on to him that he finally unlocks the possibility of change.

And this possibility is an ideal he offers up to all of us. Young men may need to hear it the most, but the damage, the fear, the noise we create to drown out our own traumas – this performance speaks to anyone who needs to hear it.

Following a short, widely acclaimed run at the Everyman, it’s hoped this production will go on tour next year. Keep an eye out and catch it if you can – it’s unexpectedly special and will strike a chord no matter who you are.

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