Brian Beacom

CABARET tends to be fairly cosy; a few songs, a little raunch, a soupcon of satire perhaps.

But this week’s Oran Mor play, Hysteria!, a cabaret written by AJ Taudevin, is “somewhat unconventional.”

Maryam Hamidi, George Drennan and Annie Grace feature in the show which could see some of Play, Pie and A Pint regulars choke on their pies.

“It will be a provocation,” says Maryam, smiling, “but in a positive way. This is a communion of ideas, and a hand reaching out to start people talking.”

Hysteria!, produced in association with the Traverse Theatre and Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival, explores the impact of sexism on mental health.

“We want to think about the dog whistle approach, the unspoken messages you can’t hear yet you can feel the waves, which still come across in a patriarchal society,” says the actress.

“AJ wanted to look at how these micro-aggressions and acts of oppression carried out on a day to day basis can compound or set off mental health issues.”

The former River City star, who played Leyla Brodie in the BBC Scotland soap, adds, smiling; “It would be easy to say this is a lot of hairy-legged feminists talking, but it’s not the case.

“It’s a piece about how sexism impacts. The idea of the title Hysteria! comes from the idea that hysteria is one of those terms which is dismissive.

“You wouldn’t say a man was hysterical - it’s used as a diagnosis for women.

“It’s no longer medically used of course, but is still used colloquially, society is still running on a gentle wave of misogyny.”

The sense of oppression women feel is worn into the fabric of society to the point it’s seen as a norm.

“In going from a teenager to a woman and walking down the street I felt objectified,” says Maryam, by way of example.

“There are also specifics, with my mum often saying to me ‘Don’t walk home alone at night’, yet the same advice wouldn’t be given to my brother.

“Women who go out late at night alone are often told to carry car keys in their hand. It’s about this sense of women being conditioned to be on the defensive.”

Maryam, who grew up in Essex and studied at drama college in Edinburgh, appreciates the show can’t be seen to be too didactic.

Oran Mor plays, after all, are about entertainment.

“There is no way you can tackle these sort of big subjects without giving them space to breathe, and poking fun,” she says, smiling.

“The cabaret is broken down into skits, playful songs and silliness.

“There needs to be laughter and satirical reflection and hopefully let the audience feel they are part of the conversation.

“You have to make the audience ask of themselves if they can connect with some of the thoughts.”

The show hopes to set minds racing. It asks about personal responsibilities. It will ask questions of how women, for example, view other women. About how women speak to their children.

Maryam, who has a son and a daughter, says we all need to think harder.

“I know my job is about teaching my son to be responsible and considerate. I shouldn’t assume my little girl doesn’t want to play with trains.

“And we need to think about why we say to little girls, ‘Oh, don’t you look pretty today’ rather than say ‘What have you been doing today?’”

The debate, which will be distilled via the conceit of the contemporary cabaret is fascinating.

It will consider, for example, how men view women who dress in a certain way, the wolf whistle syndrome.

“It’s about thinking about these behaviours, which we need to adjust.

“But to be honest, the debate has also made me think about how I look at other women, sometimes, critically.”

She adds, smiling; “Yet, most of all the piece is about shining a light on women’s voices, voices that need to be heard.”

*Hysteria, Oran Mor, until Saturday.