Camden People’s Theatre
Reviewed – 1st November 2019
“This is a night intended to inform, using clever playful techniques at times, about an unsettling subculture”
The audience file into the small Camden People’s Theatre a little nervously. A man stands at a lectern, smiling and smartly dressed, as classical music plays. Nothing could feel further from the dark world of the ‘involuntary celibate’ culture that has seen murderous consequences.
For those of us not quite sure what to expect of I, Incel, written and performed by Christopher Montague, the initial effect proves surprisingly accurate. The performance unfolds as a presentation, with slides and props to boot. It’s not quite as simple as it seems, though, with dark undertones referenced as the hour passes as Montague begins to step away from his lectern and seemingly his balanced, removed persona.
As all-too-long YouTube videos made by now notorious young men identifying as incels play behind him, our speaker seems to transform. He vapes as he gazes at a long leather jacket that hangs imposingly to one side of the stage. The lighting (cleverly deployed throughout by Lucy Adams) dips and Montague briefly becomes a silhouette… before returning briskly to his speaker’s podium and persona as the video ends.
I, Incel is presented as a work in development, and at times this shows. This notion of Montague slipping into, being drawn towards, the darkness of incel culture doesn’t quite hold, which is a shame as it suggests a greater darkness that would really help throw the shadows of the piece into relief. Montague himself, while a likeable performer, is perhaps part of the reason for the production feeling a little one-note; some lines are delivered with timing just a fraction off, robbing them of the dark humour or shock value they could have offered. And when he crosses the stage to interact moodily with the hanging jacket, it’s hard to feel too moved by his brooding; his demeanour otherwise just feels too, well, nice, despite his references to seeing how close he could have come to incel mindsets in his youth.
The after-show feedback form asks how much audience members knew about incels before coming to the show, and whether the content went too far or not far enough. This suggests an apt preoccupation with some areas that will benefit from more development. It’s a conundrum; so many of those electing to come to a show on this topic will, of course, probably have a decent level of understanding already, and with that in mind the material felt rather basic. But then of course Montague and his consultant producer, Hannah Elsy, will want to ensure that this can act as a primer for those new to this especially torrid corner of toxic masculinity. It’s a balance that still needs tweaking, and a tricky one at that.
Still, criticism of a performer for being too warm and content for being too accessible hardly feels fair. This is a night intended to inform, using clever playful techniques at times, about an unsettling subculture that has manifested in tragedy before and will, one fears, do so again. Any production designed to bring this into the sunlight is to be commended, especially one as thoughtful as I, Incel.
Reviewed by Abi Davies
Photography by Georgie Lanfranchi
Camden People’s Theatre until 2nd November
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: