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Friday, May 18, 2018

Review: 'In The Shadow Of The Mountain' at the Old Red Lion, 17th May 2018

Friday, May 18, 2018 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 1 Stars

I have two ambitions for this review. I want to be humane and I want to be efficient. In The Shadow Of The Mountain was created with the best of intentions: to address the stigma and misconceptions surrounding Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). It fails to do this. More prosaically, it is not a very good play.

The plot concerns the relationship between Ellie (Felicity Huxley-Miners, also writing) and Rob (David Shears). They 'meet-cute' on a train platform when Ellie hurls herself at Rob after she suspects that he's suicidal. Though Rob is annoyed and confused, he follows her home after she offers him casual sex. Ellie's behaviour grows more bizarre once we're at her flat, with a very confused Rob spending the rest of the 70-minute play dealing with her rapid mood swings, impulsive behaviour and emotional manipulation. 

There are multiple reasons why In The Shadow Of The Mountain fails to achieve what it wants to do. To be precise, in the words of the playwright, the goal was to kick back against "...portraying women with BPD as difficult and deliberately manipulating ... All of this contributes to the harmful, negative portrayal and is so damaging to both those affected and those with little personal experience."

If this was the aim then the play has catastrophically failed. Ellie is written, played and directed as the villain of the piece, objectively shown to be deliberately manipulative to Rob. It's bizarre that the play claims it is pushing back against harmful stereotypes of mental illness at the exact same time it is leaning into them as hard as possible. The tone of the piece is so skewiff that after the ominous first couple of scenes I assumed we were heading into outright horror territory, and that Rob would soon find himself shoved into a sack and dismembered, Audition-style.

This happens because the audience only sees Ellie via Rob. We get to know her as he does, and his lack of comprehension of her mental situation means that we're forever on the outside looking in. If the aim of the play is to show empathy with someone with BPD we need to understand her internal processes and see the situation from her perspective, which this play cannot achieve by virtue of its structure.

Granted, In The Shadow Of The Mountain would be a much more difficult play to write if it were told from Ellie's perspective, but it's not impossible. For example, Rachel Bloom's CW sitcom Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is about the protagonist's BPD, and that manages to present the illness accurately and humanely while delivering a series of toe-tappin' musical numbers (read more in this excellent Elle article).

Compounding all of this are two unconvincing performances. Huxley-Miner's Ellie spends large swathes of the play acting like a textbook Manic Pixie Dream Girl ("MPDGs are usually static characters who have eccentric personality quirks and are unabashedly girlish. They invariably serve as the romantic interest for a (most often brooding or depressed) male protagonist.") while David Shears' Rob is barely a character and more a collection of perplexed stares. Then there's the lacklustre set and...

Y'know what I just feel bad now. It's one thing to stick the boot into a production ruined by ego or stupidity, it's another to do it to a play obviously written with good intentions that has gone completely awry. I wish I had nicer things to say about In The Shadow Of The Mountain - but, well, I don't.

In The Shadow Of The Mountain is at the Old Red Lion until 2nd June. Tickets here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Review: 'Unexploded Ordnances (UXO)' at the Barbican Arts Centre, 15th May 2018

Wednesday, May 16, 2018 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 3 Stars

This probably outs me as a morbid weirdo, but I think about being nuked each and every day. I gobble up books, TV and films about the subject: Command and Control (about the many screwups that almost led to Armageddon); Neville Shute's On The Beach; the terrifyingly mundane Threads; and many movies like When The Wind Blows, the nuclear explosion scene in Terminator 2: Judgment Day and, of course, Dr Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb.

I haven't learned to stop worrying yet, and from the looks of things neither have queer comedy duo Split Britches (Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver), whose Unexploded Ordnances (UXO)  recreates the war room set from Kubrick's film and informs us that we have an hour until the bombs drop. With Shaw playing the US President and Weaver as a Jack D. Ripper-ish general, the apocalyptic deadline gives us time to ponder some important things about life, the universe and, y'know, everything.

The vehicle for said pondering is a 'Council of Elders' composed of the oldest members of the audience. After ascertaining who they are by asking people to raise their hands if they were alive during World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam War, they're asked to sit around a circular war table. As the nuclear countdown ticks down they're quizzed about their fears, ambitions and thoughts on the state of the world.

Responses were somewhat depressing. The 'younger' old people all seemed terrified at the prospect of further aging, describing their fears of incontinence, their bodies continuing to fall apart and the sudden proximity of the Grim Reaper. On top of this, there was an unsettling pessimism of the state of the world in general, touching upon the Israeli slaughter of Palestinian civilians, plastic choking up the world's oceans, global warming and the incompetence and ineptitude in global political leadership. It's a bit worrying to hear people's misgivings at how they expect the world to be in 50 years, and how they will be unable to protect their children and grandchildren from whatever happens.

The one ray of light comes with the oldest member of the council, 82-year old Margaret. She seems to have pragmatically accepted ageing and declares herself to be a born optimist, explaining that she's sure things will work themselves out somehow. It's a pretty vague platitude, but hey, I'll take it.

The backdrop to this discussion is infographics showing every nuclear explosion from 1945-1998, with tallies by country in the top corner, B-52 bombers lazily trailing their way across the stage and 1950s stock footage of children practising 'Duck and Cover' (advice that is not as ridiculous as it might first appear). This stage dressing (together with reminders from Weaver's General that we're working to a deadline) help keep both the Council of Elders focused and ensure that things keep moving.

But it's in sustaining momentum that Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) often comes a bit unstuck. By design the show meanders between subjects according to the whims of its participants, and I suspect it lives and dies by who ends up on stage. Even though I suspect we got a pretty interesting batch, there were moments throughout the show where things got exasperatingly aimless - more than once I wondered what the point of this all was.

Fortunately, Split Britches isn't trying to be particularly enigmatic. The show's title refers to potentially lethal bombs (grenades, mines, shells etc) that remained buried long after the war they were used in was over. This explained as a metaphor for the unexploded ordnance within us - the fears we keep bottled up and the ambitions and desires we have not or cannot realise. Perhaps a tiny bit presumptuously the show posits itself as therapeutic for its participants, but they looked like they were engaged so hell, maybe it was.

It made me reconsider my preoccupation with being incinerated in a nuclear holocaust: is it a practical fear or just an irreligious way of thinking about my own death? Visualising buildings torn apart in a hail of shattering glass, combined with a raging wall of fire moving at the speed of sound is a bit Roland Emmerich especially when, statistically speaking at least, I'm more likely to pop it slipping in the shower. Then again these bombs really do exist, they really are aimed at London and the people currently in charge of them don't inspire much confidence. It's an unsettling train of thought, and the mundane fears and desires we see here reminded me of Stalin's famous quote that one death is a tragedy and a million is just a statistic.

Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) ends up as a tricky one to grade. The show often engages in self-critique, particularly when Weaver and Shaw explain that they never know how to end a show properly, after which they do indeed unceremoniously anticlimax themselves off-stage. Understanding and explaining your flaws doesn't excuse them, but it at least shows an honesty that few other shows have. But though this is a fuzzy and loose-limbed bit of theatre it's also a consistently thought-provoking one. And as always that goes a long way.

Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) is at the Barbican Arts Centre until 19 May. More info here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Review: 'Isaac Came Home From The Mountain' at Theatre503, 14th May 2018

Tuesday, May 15, 2018 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 4 Stars

It turns out that living through a 'crisis of masculinity' isn't much fun. A century of feminism and civil rights campaigning has left straight white men paranoid that their hitherto unassailable place at the top of the social pecking order is being eroded. Riddled with paranoia they've turned in droves to reassuring caricatures of manhood - see the pussy-grabbin', nuclear-dicked leader of the free world.

Traditional masculine traits like physical strength, propensity to violence and rugged individualism are being consigned to the scrapyard of history. It's among this tangled heap of rusted machinery and corrugated iron that we find the characters of Phil Ormrod's Isaac Came Home From The Mountain.

Set in a northern post-industrial town, we follow teenage boy Bobby (Charles Furness), spinning aimlessly through a world that doesn't have a place for him. His estranged cop dad, John (Guy Porritt) tells him he's got no skills or experience and is in danger of getting left behind by the world, handing him a cold McDonalds hamburger and pleading with him to get a job.

Bobby does precisely that, ending up at a scrapyard run by Mike Scofield (Ian Burfield) and his son Chris (Kenny Fullwood). Mike is almost a caricature of old-fashioned masculinity, his beard, sturdy physique and booming voice adding up a man you can imagine charging off a Viking long-boat, screaming and brandishing an axe at some terrified monks. He's apparently some kind of low-level criminal (or at least moderately shady) and his employment of Bobby scares John, who sees his son falling in with a disreputable crowd.

What follows is a two-layered paternal battle. On one front Mike and Bobby are vying to be Bobby's father figure, on the other Bobby and Chris are struggling to win the approval of Mike. Everyone seems to recognise Bobby as a person with potential, each eager to impress their own philosophies upon him before his personality solidifies. 

Most successful is Mike who, in the play's best scene, takes him into the mountains and waxes lyrical on his British heritage, explaining that his ancestors walked this landscape and he is intrinsically connected to it (slightly undercut by Bobby pointing out that his parents moved here from Lincoln, but the point still stands). Mike massages Bobby's lack of purpose by putting a shotgun in his hands and instructing him to blow away a rabbit, allowing him to understand his masculinity by handing him a physical manifestation of his potential.

What follows are the horrible consequences of someone being filled full of half-baked notions about masculine identity and a burning desire to impress someone. It's the kind of story you see periodically echoed on the news as yet another young man picks up a semi-automatic rifle and walks into a mall or perhaps rents a van and drives into a group of pedestrians. What better way to instantly define a bruised masculinity than through senseless, bloody violence?

Isaac Came Home From The Mountain doesn't screw around when it comes to communicating this stuff. The play is fat-free at just over an hour long and has a strong sense of purpose and momentum. Director Carla Kingham and the cast also do an admirable job of making the physical elements of the play land with a thump - as the young men wrestle one another to establish their dominance in the social hierarchy you can practically imagine David Attenborough on narration.

An obvious highlight is Ian Burfield's Mike, whose rumbling anger rattles the audience's bones and instantly physically dominates the space. He's the perfectly pitched counterpart to the more introspective performance of Guy Porritt - and it's instantly obvious why a young man like Bobby would gravitate and seek to emulate him. Charles Furness as Bobby is also fantastic,  playing up his sharply defined features, gangly teenage body language and insouciant gaze. He nails the character's transformation: beginning the play physically loose and lanky, before straightening up and gaining an intimidating sense of purpose.

Ormrod's weaving together of class and gender is careful and precise, and though I don't know much about him I assume these are observations borne of personal experience. But one element that initially seems absent from the play is an explicitly political dimension. We can assume that the characters' situations arise from Thatcher's deindustrialisation of the North, with the resulting unemployment and dent in masculine purpose in the area, which has had long-simmering consequences in the rise of the far-right and its deification of masculinity (the briefest glimmer of this comes through in some off-stage character's names).

The obvious justification for this absence is that these simply aren't characters who are going to naturally segue into chatting about their socioeconomic circumstances, but all the same, there's a bit of a void behind their actions that could be alluded to a little more strongly. That's about it for criticism though, well other than the rather flea-bitten and stiff stuffed rabbit that drew a couple of giggles from the audience.

Isaac Came Home From The Mountain is a concise and moving examination of modern masculinity and how badly it can go wrong. It's witty, intelligent, well-performed and Eleanor Bull's staging is a delight. Ormrod asks a lot of questions, none of which have easy answers. Still, there's a simmering, indignant frustration that runs right through the play like the words through a stick of rock - it's got a palpable life that so many other productions lack.

Isaac Came Home From The Mountain is at Theatre503 until 2nd June. Tickets here.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Review: 'Lippy' at The Wandsworth Arts Fringe, 12th May 2018

Sunday, May 13, 2018 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

Lippy reviewed by David James
Rating: 2 Stars

Lippy is right about everything. It's right about body fascism. It's right about the unfairly limited social expectations of women. It's right about the ways age brings both fresh perspectives and new neuroses. It's right about unrealistic expectations of sex. It's especially right about the way female comedians are sidelined despite being some of the funniest performers around.

All that is bang on. But, sadly, Lippy doesn't work as a show. 

Written and performed by Rachel Causer, the show is an exhaustive autopsy on her life to date. Confessional shows like these live and die on whether the performer is interesting enough to warrant an hour of self-obsession - and Causer actually is. She's witty, insightful, unflinchingly honest about her flaws and has charisma to spare. It's easy to get involved in the minutia of her life: some elements universal to the human condition, some speaking directly to feminine experiences and some particular to her as an individual.

The problem comes with the conceit of the show: that we're hearing Causer's internal voice and seeing her external reactions to it. On the face of it, it's a great shortcut to getting under her skin and seeing how she really feels without having to bother with subtext and all that and were it an element of the show rather than the whole show it'd be effective.

Sadly it is the whole show. Causer essentially hits play at the beginning of Lippy and then reacts to a pre-recorded soundtrack for about an hour. The most immediate consequence is that there is no sense of spontaneity or excitement - once that play button has been pressed Lippy is going to rumble to its conclusion regardless of what happens on stage. It undermines the connection we feel with Causer and makes us feel like we're watching someone going through the motions - because we are.

Causer's own voice is punctuated by sequences in which she lip-syncs to lengthy excerpts from the live acts of comedians she admires: Amy Schumer, Caitlin Moran, Andi Osho, Joan Rivers and Victoria Wood (among others). Causer's enthusiasm and admiration for these women is palpable, though it's a hell of a risky move to fill about half of your own 50-minute show with other people's material. 

Predictably enough, these excerpts are by far the funniest and most entertaining parts of the show. It raises the question of precisely where the credit for Lippy lies - is Causer strengthening her own story by contrasting it to her comedy icons or is the show running on stolen fuel? Is the show really recontextualising these performances enough to justify doing this? It's definitely not plagiarism - but it's somewhere in the same area code.

It leaves with a show with an artificially transplanted emotional core, whose dramatic conceit efficiently siphons away pathos, excitement and the vulnerability crucial to making the comedic confessional work. If I squint I can kind of imagine the intellectual justification behind the show's style, but in this instance, the method cancels out the meaning. Rachel Causer seems like an interesting performer with some important stuff to say -  I want to hear her say it.

Photo by Alex Harvey-Brown

Friday, May 4, 2018

Review: 'Grotty' at The Bunker, 3rd May 2018

Friday, May 4, 2018 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

Grotty reviewed by David James
Rating: 4 Stars

I don't know much about the London lesbian scene, but judging by Grotty it's a psychosexual pressure cooker crammed full of cynical, predatory weirdos. Written by and starring Izzy Tennyson, this semi-autobiographical story follows Rigby, an awkward 22-year-old scene newbie doing her best to navigate a tangled web of bitchery and broken hearts.

Rigby spends most of the play bouncing like a pinball between two women's beds; Toad (Rebekah Hind) is maternally overpowering while Witch (Grace Chilton) is into pretty much everything dark and depraved, though appears to mostly get her kicks from causing shame and embarrassment in her partners. Witch and Toad were also once engaged, so uh, that'd be awkward if they found out they now share Rigby.

But the white-hot core of Grotty is Rigby: one of the most fascinating characters I've seen in a very long time. Hunch-backed, twitchy, tongue pressed awkwardly into her lower lip, clad in charity shop sportswear - she behaves like someone who spent her childhood in a Harry Harlow isolation box. Her dialogue is a rat-a-tat stream-of-consciousness, winding its way through suicidal self-loathing, incisive observations and amphetamine fuelled paranoia.

Rigby is a grotesque in the nicest possible way, reminding me of some of the darker work of Peter Cook or maybe The League of Gentlemen. Despite her being a caricature amidst a cast of (relatively) realistic characters, the character brims over with pathos, empathy and wit. The other women in the play are drawn to her malleable vulnerability, seeing her as a woman-shaped-flesh-puppet they can mould to their sexual specifications and discard when things get boring. It leaves her unfulfilled and confused - perhaps most touchingly when she asks the hard-edged lesdom fanatic Witch for a simple hug.

Rigby's viewpoint (and I have to assume Tennyson's too) of London's lesbian scene isn't particularly charitable. These takedowns comprise the funniest moments in the play, from bemoaning the omnipresent R&B soundtrack, to the fact that lesbian nights tend to be midweek ("Who goes out on a Wednesday?!"), to the preponderance of bicurious Goldsmiths graduates in pixie haircuts called Annabelle who are there to vicariously play at being different rather than find a shag.

It's a breath of fresh air to see a show about lesbians that's so aggressively deromanticised. A lot of right-on shows that feature lesbian relationships (even ones written by women) have the vague odour of the male gaze about then - with a tacit understanding that there's something intrinsically erotic about lesbians. Grotty comprehensively dispels that, feeling custom-designed to deliver a warts and all insight into the dull sexual drudgery that really goes on behind closed doors.

The show's insights are uniformly excellent, but sadly it comes a little unstuck narratively. This is mainly down to the core narrative concluding, but the play continuing on with an inessential 15-minute epilogue. This marks a tonal shift that does the play no favours: the jokes dry up, the pace slows down and we just don't learn much new about the characters. It's a bit of a structural headscratcher - as if there's a lack of confidence that the previous 70 minutes or so hadn't communicated its message well enough (it did).

Anyhows, that doesn't get in the way of Grotty's obvious qualities. It's handsomely directed, staged, soundtracked and contains a bevvy of great performances (I love the way Grace Chilton delivers the dead-eyed nonchalant stare of the truly committed pervert). But it's Izzy Tennyson's night and while Grotty is not without its flaws, it's a great performative and literary showcase for a serious theatrical talent.

Grotty is at The Bunker until 26 May. Tickets here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Review: 'For King And Country' at CoLab Factory, 24th April 2018

Wednesday, April 25, 2018 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

For King And Country reviewed by David James
Rating: 5 Stars

'Immersive' is one of the great marketing buzzwords in contemporary theatre. Spurred on by the wild success of shows like PunchDrunk's The Drowned Man, it seems like every other show now bills itself as an immersive experience. Most of them simply aren't - they're either promenade pieces in which the audience watches a play staged over multiple rooms or just 'yer bog standard sit-down-and-shut-up play sandwiched between two thin bookends of interactivity.

So it's insanely refreshing that Parabolic Theatre and writer/director Owen Kingston's For King And Country is not just genuinely immersive, but that it takes full advantage of what immersive theatre can achieve.

The year is 1940, King Edward VIII sits on the throne alongside his wife, Wallis Simpson and Britain is in nervous turmoil. Nazi forces have seized the French Navy, crossed the Channel, landed on the south coast of England and are advancing towards London. The audience become the British Government's 'designated survivors' - a group of MPs and their families ordered to remain in an underground bunker and tasked with commanding of the war effort should the unthinkable happen to the sitting cabinet.

The unthinkable happens a couple of minutes after we take our seats and, under the guidance of a group of civil servants and military representatives, we form a new government and begin to formulate strategies against unfolding events. This consists of ordering the British forces around the south of England, keeping morale steady through inspiring and informative speeches and engaging in diplomacy with both the enemy and potential allies.

As MPs and Ministers we're expected to vote on issues like deploying chemical weapons, whether to execute Nazi prisoners accused of atrocities and whether to evacuate civilians from the cities, to name a few. These big decisions, and the actions we take in various ministries, have consequences - and we must rapidly adapt to these changing circumstances and try our best to keep wartime Britain in one piece and repel the Nazi invaders.

On paper it's a bit Mark Corrigan. Playing out an alt-history wargame and pretending to be old-timey generals and politicians doesn't exactly sound like the sexiest night in London - not to mention that the spitfires/blitz spirit/Winston Churchill/"Keep Calm And Carry On" (etc) iconography was mined to death over the Brexit campaign. There's a convincing argument that Britain needs to stop wallowing in a past that's all but faded from living memory and get a true picture of our geopolitical importance in 2018.

But For King And Country doesn't just fetishise the past, it uses it as a vehicle to examine very contemporary issues. For example, we instinctively and rightly condemn the use of chemical weapons in Syria, but you see the issue from a different angle when you're asked if you'd use them to prevent our country falling under Nazi rule. Everyone believes politicians should strive for honesty and transparency, but would the populace really be happier if they discovered British bombers had accidentally destroyed Canterbury Cathedral rather than the Luftwaffe?

Very quickly you start thinking of the people you are governing as resources to be utilised and problems to be solved, with high-falutin' ethical stances quickly sacrificed on the altar of the 'greater good'. If you can start to go mad with power after 15 minutes in a Borough basement, the mind boggles at what must be going on in the heads of politicians with real sway over people's lives. Realisations like these demonstrate the power of immersive theatre: we're not being lectured about the perils of power and the fog of war, we experience and understand it.

That the show achieves this so successfully is testament to the theatrical skill and intelligence with which its constructed. The cast (Christopher Styles, Edward Andrews, Zoe Flint, Peter Dewhurst, Tom Black, Michael Thomas, Lauren Reed and Owen Kingston) are the most flexible improvisers I've seen in a long time and are also possessed of a encyclopaedic knowledge of the time period. There is apparently nothing they can deal with without breaking character - their sincerity and skill subtly encouraging the audience to take the show seriously.

It all adds up an incredibly fun, thought-provoking and exciting night of theatre. One of the perils of truly immersive theatre is that the show is only ever as good as the audience that night, but I suspect For King And Country's careful construction will avoid that pitfall and encourage every audience member to be the best participant they can be.

In the murky sea of half-assed quasi-immersive experiences dotted around London, the sheer quality of For King And Country stands out a mile. It's the best thing I've seen this year so far - I can't recommend it highly enough. 

For King And Country runs at COLAB Factory until 10 June. Tickets here.

Pictures by Owen Kingston

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Review: 'This Is Not A Safe Space' at the Camden People's Theatre, 17th April 2018

Wednesday, April 18, 2018 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

This Is Not A Safe Space reviewed by David James
Rating: 3 Stars

You might assume a show titled This Is Not A Safe Space would be some identity-politics-baiting, politically-correct-puncturing attack on Millennial sensitivities. It isn't. In fact, host Jackie Hagan goes out of her way to create a safe space, from assuring any audience members with Tourette's that they do not need to suppress their tics, to providing BSL support throughout the show, right down to the simple way she quickly befriends the audience.

No, the 'space' referred to in the title of the show is, sadly, the United Kingdom as a whole. Since the 2010 election the Conservative government (with the help of the Liberal Democrats) have constructed a purposefully cruel environment for disabled people.

This is a many-faceted cruelty - taking the form of ATOS/Maximus run 'work capability assessments', byzantine PIP (Personal Independence Payments) forms and a general cultural shift that portrays people receiving benefits as workshy scroungers. It bears repeating that the paranoia, misery and pain caused by these systems is not an accident, it's purposefully designed into the system and is borne of a philosophy that posits people claiming disability benefits are actually able to work and simply need to be beaten until they'll admit it. The consequences of these systems are brutal, with DWP statistics revealing that 2,380 people died between 2011 and 2014 alone shortly after being declared able to work.

Into this strides Jackie Hagan: heavily tattooed, fairy lights wrapped around her glittering prosthetic leg, pink-haired and pissed off with the state of the world. Over the course of an hour, we hear how the DWP's policies have impacted upon her life and those around her. To a backdrop of ragged toys and tattered junk she opens the doors on her life, touching on her daily annoyances with people calling her 'brave' and taxi drivers telling her she could be a Paralympian (to which she responds, "Well, why aren't you an Olympian?").

This segues into her experiences with the dreaded PIP forms, which she lucidly outlines as a bureaucratic exercise in humiliation. Filling it out is an exercise that defeats even the naturally optimistic Hagan: who explains that her viewpoint on life is to take all the shit that life hands her and roll it in glitter. Filling in this form is like painstakingly picking every piece of glitter back off that shit, then rubbing the turd in your face - forcing you to dwell on when you were weakest, when you embarrassingly failed, and the moments in which your life was at its absolute worst.

As a reaction she imagines a fantasy PIP form that inverts the DWP's intentions and makes you feel good, asking questions like "Are you (a) awesome, (b) awesome wonky) and (c) wonky with strains of awesome". It's a funny, touching moment - Hagan's intrinsic warmth and empathy a stark contrast to impersonal bureaucratic cruelty. Her argument is further supported by clips of interviews she's had with friends and acquaintances dreading ATOS means testing and terrified of having their already not great living standards further reduced.

Successfully communicating the horror of this system while being funny and good-natured is a tricky tightrope to navigate, and it's to Hagan's credit that she manages. However, there are moments where the focus slips. Most of these come in the (apparently) improvised moments in which Hagan interacts with the audience or heads off on a tangent. On one hand, these moments help define her character and go a long way towards making us like her, on the other the anger of the show is so righteous and its target so deserving of disgust and mockery that the slacker moments feel like time wasted.

It's a tricky criticism - after all, toning down the lighter bits could throw off the balance of the show. Then again, the systems that are the subject of the show are so important, infuriating and morally repellent that as much light needs to be cast on them as possible. Jackie Hagan is absolutely the person to be doing this: there's a razor-sharp lyricism in her poetry, she's an imaginative, engaging performer and is smart enough to distil these issues down and communicate them quickly and effectively.

This Is Not A Safe Space isn't a perfect show, but then it's probably not meant to be. It is, however, an eye-opening examination of how government policy and ideology preys upon those they consider least able to defend themselves. If you want to get angry, check it out.

This Is Not A Safe Space is at Camden People's Theatre until 21 April. Tickets here.

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