Angry Alan by Penelope Skinner @ Underbelly Cowgate

Written and directed by Penelope Skinner
Starring Donald Sage Mackay
Presented by Francesca Moody Productions in association with Underbelly
2nd – 26th August 2018, 3.20pm at Cowgate

Donald Sage Mackay in Angry Alan

Donald Sage Mackay in Angry Alan, photo by The Other Richard

Angry Alan is not actually about Alan; it’s about Roger, a thoroughly average American guy. Roger is established as an unremarkable everyman from his very first line: “You know that feeling, when you think to yourself, I should really go for a run…” from which he then leads us through a familiar process: getting your phone out to check the weather, becoming distracted by an interesting article, and next thing you know you’ve fallen down a rabbit hole of Internet links and you definitely don’t have time for a run now. We’ve all been there! But for Roger, the rabbit hole leads somewhere more sinister than your usual clickbait – he discovers Angry Alan, a prominent figure in the online Men’s Rights Activism (MRA) community. As Roger is “red pilled” and ventures deeper and deeper into this movement, we follow his story of how it changes his relationships, decisions, perceptions of society, and his self-esteem.

This is a one-person show, told in first person present tense, with virtually nothing to distract the audience from its narrator – the only two items brought onstage are a chair and a lanyard. A projector screen forms the backdrop, and various (real) MRA videos are interspersed throughout the narrative, along with various supporting images such as an email screenshot, or a text message conversation. Donald Sage Mackay is superb as Roger, portraying a character who is very believable and sometimes even relatable – a guy who means well, but whose weaknesses, his feelings of insecurity and impotence, allow him to be preyed upon by more sinister forces. While Roger claims that the movement inspires him to be “proud” of his identity and to “change the world” for the better, he also unwittingly admits to the truth: where he had previously blamed himself for his perceived inadequacies and failures, the MRA movement offered him an absolution from guilt, and a different target for all his pent-up rage and resentment instead.

Skinner’s decision to minimise the amount of outright misogyny in Roger’s character – there was nothing about “women’s place” or any gender-fraught slurs – meant that Roger was not the two-dimensional caricature of a socially challenged, greasy-haired weirdo hunched over his laptop and spewing out hate speech, which many feminists would usually associate with the “MRA type”. All Roger really wants is a better self-image, a better relationship with his son than his with his father, and a return to a time when he knew and understood his place in the world. When his girlfriend discovered feminism, he explains, she found it “inspiring”. But the main feelings Roger finds in Men’s Rights Activism seem to be, as declared in the play’s title, anger.

In a world of Elliot Rodgers and “incels”, alt-right terrorists and #metoo, Angry Alan certainly fulfills the proscription of theatre to ‘hold up a mirror to society’. However, my only criticism of the play is that it stops there; there is no urge to action, or even suggestion of how we, as a society, can counter this anger and (self-)destruction. As Roger laid out the logic of the MRA movement, the “alternative facts” of a “gynocentric” social structure in which it is men, not women, who are systematically oppressed, I felt a dull sense of helplessness and hopelessness set in: how do you fight this sort of cultish indoctrination, and blind, rage-filled world-view? At what point could anyone have stepped in and talked Roger away from these beliefs, when he clung to them like a drowning man to a life raft? As the story hurtled inevitably towards crisis and/or tragedy, there was a total lack of hope, of the possibility of redemption. I feel this is doing Roger, men, and humanity a disservice, and meant that Angry Alan fell short of being truly groundbreaking. Diagnosing and warning against a widespread disease in society is important, but trying to treat it is what we really need our innovators to concentrate on.

This last gripe notwithstanding, it is fair to say that Angry Alan is fully deserving of its Fringe First award and fully sold-out status: this is a piece of raw yet elegant theatre which packs a real punch, and when further runs are announced throughout the UK – of which I have no doubt – I would strongly urge all Theatre Box readers to make seeing it a priority.

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Donald Sage Mackay in Angry Alan, photo by The Other Richard

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