Reviewed – 8th March 2019
“this saw me laughing out loud – but it’s an uneasy and short-lived laughter”
Reams of scrolling comments with an incel flavour loop down a screen as we take our seats for Angry Alan. ‘Is there a bigger waste of time and money than pursuing a female?’ asks one, concluding that ‘if it wasn’t for their pussies it would be open season on them’. Nice. So begins our all-too credible glimpse into the men’s rights movement.
As the play opens, we’re also told that the YouTube clips we’ll see throughout are all real. I sincerely hope this is dramatic license. They’re nothing more than nonsense, and hard to watch. Amusing, certainly, and this engaged audience at the Soho Theatre crack up at the more ridiculous moments (the allegedly ‘gynocentric’ White House topped by an enormous breast, anyone?). But this narrative of a ‘normal’, even affable, American man falling into the dark side of masculinity in crisis leaves the audience suitably uneasy.
Donald Sage Mackay masterfully (if the gendered language can be overlooked) offers up entertainment as well as depth in this solo performance. Roger could be so many men; divorced, estranged from his son and adjusting to life post-redundancy. Hints of his #everydaysexism flicker early on – he ignores his long-suffering partner, Courtney (who’s studying feminism in her community college course, of which Roger takes a dim view), only to pipe up to request a sandwich. Later he criticises her cooking and grumbles when she starts her washing up mid-argument. The seeds are sown. But the world of men’s rights activist Angry Alan in which Roger finds kinship in is a different league. Sage Mackay brings Roger’s sense of much-missed belonging alive so acutely it’s almost touching.
However, each time our feelings soften, Penelope Skinner’s deft writing resets us. His earnest enjoyment of feeling ‘safe’ acceptance at a men’s rights conference could even be seen as sweetly vulnerable – but lines like ‘she was quite attractive – for a feminist’ remind us of just how deep in the mire our protagonist is.
Roger’s absent son Joe has something he wants to share with his dad, and it’s in this denouement we finally see the extent to which Roger’s exposure to Angry Alan’s material has affected his ability to be open-hearted. The results are dramatic, and the clever use of sound (Dominic Kennedy), light (Zak Macro) and Stanley Orwin-Fraser’s projection (a strength throughout here, with really skilful use of digital) indicate that this at first light performance, has taken a dark turn.
Angry Alan is a deep dive into the underbelly of the community of unhappy men, and we’re left reminded that this is a brotherhood that it harms as much as it supports. On International Women’s Day, this saw me laughing out loud – but it’s an uneasy and short-lived laughter.
Reviewed by Abi Davies
Photography by The Other Richard
Soho Theatre until 30th March
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
White Guy on the Bus
Reviewed – 29th March 2018
“the disarmingly moralistic first half gives way to a searing piece of theatre as insightful as it is brutal”
The poster for the Finborough Theatre’s production of White Guy on the Bus shows a silhouetted figure standing before a blazing inferno, a large house on fire. For the majority of the first act, however, you may find yourself wondering why.
Bruce Graham’s play opens with two overlapping sequences, both revolving around the wealthy, white, and liberal Ray (Donald Sage Mackay). First, we see him at home in suburban Philadelphia, comfortably passing the time with his white, liberal wife Ros (Samantha Coughlan) and his white, liberal friends Christopher (Carl Stone) and Molly (Marina Bye). Later, we find him travelling on a bus, seemingly for no reason, where he meets a young black woman, Shatique (Joanna McGibbon), who is studying for a nursing degree and caring for her son.
At home he, his wife and his friends chit-chat, mostly about their jobs, in Ray’s case a financial consultant who, in his own words, “makes rich people richer”. His wife is a teacher at a tough inner-city school where she keeps a tally of how often she is called “white bitch” each day. Their friend, Molly is also a teacher, though in a wealthier district. Molly’s well-intentioned idealism brings her into conflict with Ros who, due to her experiences at work, believes she is more realistic about racial and class tension in Philly. Meanwhile, on the bus, Ray and Shatique become friends. He tells her his rags-to-riches story, meanwhile she talks to him about the harsh reality of inner city life for a black woman. So far, the piece seems like a slightly predictable take on America’s racial fault lines from the perspective of the titular “white guy”. And then, minutes before the interval, we are plunged into the inferno as promised.
To say any more about the plot would give too much away, but in short, the disarmingly moralistic first half gives way to a searing piece of theatre as insightful as it is brutal. Though it is fair to say that the exploration of racism seems to come more from a white person’s perspective (it is also worth noting that, despite the title, only one non-white character actually appears in the play), Shatique’s storyline is the true heart of the story. Joanna McGibbon perfectly captures her sympathy and strength, especially the sense of loyalty to her son that makes her story in the second act all the more upsetting. Meanwhile Donald Sage Mackay nimbly handles Ray’s transition from a decent, apparently understanding figure into something altogether more horrifying.
Though the piece risks becoming pedestrian at times, its triumph lies in its awareness of the self-perpetuating nature of structural racism. Ray, the “numbers man” can easily trot out statistics about the difference between an average majority-white neighbourhood and an average majority-black neighbourhood but seems unable to ask why these differences exist in the first place. Meanwhile Shatique, though she is friends with Ray, also makes wary assumptions about him and about white people in general. That said, these assumptions are often reinforced by the world she sees around her.
The small space at the Finborough is used to the play’s advantage; at close quarters the savagery of the second act is all the more horrifying. Scenes overlap, with episodes on the bus and at Ray’s home blending into one another, giving a deliberate sense of distorted time. Sarah Jane Booth’s stage design is such that we are only able to tell where we are through dialogue alone.
White Guy on the Bus is not designed as a beacon of hope in the heart of Trump’s America. Quite the opposite. Graham pulls no punches, forcing us to face the true toxicity of class and race divisions. Though it is heavy-handed at times, and though it may not offer any answers, this is a play as relevant as it is ruthless.
Reviewed by Harry True
Photography by Helen Maybanks
White Guy on the Bus
Finborough Theatre until 21st April