Review - Penelope Skinner's Angry Alan at Soho Theatre
Since Trump rocked the world with his election in 2016, there has been no shortage of political satire on the subject. But writer Penelope Skinner explores a new angle with her one-man show Angry Alan, in which one man attempts to rediscover his place in the world with the help of the Men’s Rights Movement in America.
Roger(Donald Sage Mackay) is divorced, rarely sees his teenage son, and has been struggling to find his way since he was made redundant from a well-paid job. He is a disappointment to himself, until one day an internet link leads him to Alan. Alan is an online activist who we never see, but whose ideology saturates this provocative piece. He shows Roger that he is not to blame for the turn his life has taken; that he has been oppressed, forced into compliance in a gynocratic society, and that supporting the Men’s Rights Movement is his opportunity to finally belong.
The play’s lifeblood is the disturbing sentiment and the social media that have made this discussion necessary. The play opens on a Facebook feed of anti-feminist trolling, and the incorporation of inconceivably true-life YouTube videos is a reminder that this alt-right underworld is far from a myth.
Angry Alan is divided into chapters that propel the plot deeper into an angry echo chamber. Roger is the perfect guide, Mackay delivering an hour-long soliloquy with gunfire precision. This practical achievement alone is staggering, but Mackay’s nuanced characterisation allows Roger to be as infuriating as he is likeable, not to mention frequently hilarious.
Roger narrates the events of the play, so that we experience the other characters through his interpretation of them. Mackay excels in this challenge, and the mechanics of this technique quickly dissolve from sight. We are watching the story unfold as though the other characters were with him on stage. Nowhere is this clearer than in the final scene when Mackay embodies both Richard and his ex-wife in a deeply moving demonstration of the character’s tragic inability to express himself.
Skinner’s production of Angry Alan is the perfect complement to her refreshingly original script. Peter Small’s lighting and Dominic Kennedy’s sound effects punctuate the pacy soliloquy and take us deep into the psyche of our protagonist. Set to a soundtrack of punk music, the play has a rousing, galvanising quality. It is calling the audience to think, to speak, to act. But to think what exactly?
Undoubtedly, Skinner is exposing the terrible hypocrisy of the Movement, fuelled by masculine entitlement. But in this satirical manifesto, her talent lies in her ability to interrogate ideas without offering a solution; presenting us with these angry and embittered people and asking, are they entirely to blame?
This is an irresistibly exciting show, and a powerful response to this political moment. Angry Alan is a must-see for anyone with an opinion on the state of America today, regardless of their stance. And for anyone pleading indifference, your apathy won’t survive this play.
Photo credit: The Other Richard