Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Neil Cooper

Four stars

The party looks like it might never end at the start of James Meteyard’s play, a street-smart spoken-word hip-hopera set to Maimuna Memon’s live score played by Wildcard Theatre’s cast of six. For Jessie, the young woman at the heart of the show, however, the come-down, when it kicks in, sends her on the run from her friends in Leeds to a London where she chases some kind of salvation. This comes initially through sweet-voiced singer Allie Touch, though crashing out in a warehouse is merely a stopping-off point before she embarks on a manic search for her mother.

What initially looks like a dysfunctional post-Skins rave-up in Donnacadh O’Briain’s production rapidly evolves into a far more urgent rush of everyday psychosis as Jessie attempts to come to terms with her losses. That she does this with the help of the friends she almost left behind speaks volumes about where the play is coming from in terms of surrounding yourself with good people in order to survive. Such a message is never hammered home, but emerges from what looks like genuine collective empathy onstage.

With Olivia Sweeney taking the microphone throughout as Jessie, the performances are so natural as to initially presume she’s fronting a real band. Such speak-easy bonhomie with the audience and each other is deceptive, however, in what is a well-drilled machine that taps into of-the-moment concerns regarding personal well-being.

Arriving in Scotland during Mental Health Awareness Week as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival prior to dates at Dumfries and Galloway Arts Festival, the stripped-down nature of O’Briain’s production gives things an epic feel. Such non-naturalistic apparel lends an immediacy and truth to a scenario which captures an ongoing state of collective anxiety that currently prevails. Pulsed by Memon’s score, the play has it large even as Jessie purges her demons enough to learn to carry on, protected by the lives around her with whom she finds mutual support.