In theatre – indeed with any storytelling form – there is nothing more satisfying for an audience than knowing more than a character. Especially when our superior knowledge is used to reveal character traits. This is used artfully by J.B Priestly in An Inspector Calls and Angry Alan might be the single greatest use of this tool since then.
The subject matter of the play, a white man called Rogers’ journey into the world of men’s rights via the medium of YouTube videos of course sparks numerous laughs. As it should. However it’s striking that behind the sheer ridiculousness there are points raised that ring true in our society. The male suicide rate is a problem. For generations we have raised our men to be the breadwinners; head of the household, emotionally reserved and defined masculinity as such.
Angry Alan makes the decision to include projection as an active part of the performance and story. Where this can signpost – particularly in a one person show – a weakness in the script, story or performance, in this case it heightens the overall piece. Watching for ourselves real video clips combined with the points our protagonist’s story raises, helps bring us in so that behind our shared laughter we can at least understand the appeal of the men’s rights movement for men like Roger.
They say that if you go far enough in either end of the political spectrum, you’ll eventually meet your opponents. Angry Alan is a stark reminder of that. Anyone watching who is politically active, outspoken, or lived as part of a minority will find Angry Alan impossible not to connect with. The emotional side of his journey: the feelings of justification; community; validation and the first moment of connection are relatable across the political spectrum. It leaves you dwelling on how much damage can be done when these emotions combined with half-truths are successfully deployed towards causes such as mens’ rights.
There are also moments of complete disconnect. There is no acknowledgement that some of the mens rights grievances are only applicable to white men. Roger complains of how in the age of #metoo, men are now guilty until proven innocent and the justice system is now rigged against men. However men of colour, black men, are rarely considered innocent until proven guilty and the justice system is institutionally structured against them. It can be argued that in a play about a white man, written by a white women, a lack of racial awareness is perhaps to be expected. However, it is 2019 and Angry Alan is set in the United States. To not mention the racial disparity; even in passing, is frankly dangerous. Moreover Penelope Skinner’s writing of Roger excellently demonstrates a complete lack of social awareness in his belief that feminism is and was unnecessary while successfully challenging our assumptions on the gender binary. The lack of racial awareness throughout almost undercuts this.
Roger’s interactions with those important to his life serve to provide not only counter arguments but showcase the impact becoming involved in a movement like this has on those around you. There is a beautifully poignant moment between Roger and Courtney, his girlfriend, that hits you in the heart. Similarly there is a moment where Donald Mackay’s Roger perfectly captures the blind rage that those who become consumed by such subject matter sink into. The characterisation of the secondary characters is significantly less developed; the only thing that detracts from these moments.
In a world saturated with the voices of white men, Angry Alan manages to stand out as being worth seeing and with something to say. You might not agree with all that it has to say. This is the point. It opens a window into those that inhabit the world of mens rights activism and will leave you starting a conversation that needs to be had.