Soho Theatre, London – until 30 March 2019
There’s a depressing inevitability about the protagonist’s journey in the one-man show Angry Alan. His name is not, in fact, Alan – but he is very angry. Life hasn’t gone the way Roger wanted, but he never realised why… until he goes online and finds Angry Alan and his men’s rights movement. Not long after that, Roger realises that everything – losing his big corporate job, getting divorced, losing contact with his son – is the fault of women and the gynocentric society in which we’re now living. Because of course it is.
Written and directed by Penelope Skinner, Angry Alan was a hit at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, where it picked up a Fringe First award. The show takes timely and merciless aim at the increasingly prevalent “but what about the poor men?” argument that’s been a predictable side-effect of feminism and #metoo. It begins as a bit of a joke – a few harmless cranks who are easy to dismiss – but soon turns more serious, and a dramatic turn of events forces Roger to confront the damaging impact of Angry Alan’s angry rhetoric.
Roger’s character follows a similar trajectory. Played brilliantly by the show’s co-creator Donald Sage Mackay, he at first comes across as very much a regular guy next door, whose delight at having finally found a satisfactory answer to all his woes seems both funny and a bit pathetic. But his beliefs, both old and new, are shocking and offensive to listen to, and on hearing how he talks both to and about his girlfriend, ex-wife and women in general, we quickly lose any respect or sympathy we might have had for him.
There’s a reason this play isn’t called Angry Roger, though. He thinks he’s narrating his own story, but it’s clear that very little of what Roger says during the course of the hour-long play comes from his own head – instead it’s Alan’s voice we’re hearing. Roger’s just looking to deflect the responsibility for his own misfortune on to someone else, and that makes him an easy target emotionally, intellectually and financially. What’s really scary – if not surprising – is to see how quickly the hate spreads.
To make sure we can’t dismiss what we’re hearing as exaggeration or fake news, the show invites us to watch some of the videos promoted by Angry Alan, and viewed so eagerly by Roger – all of which are real and taken from YouTube. And just in case we’re not taking these seriously enough, the last one is instantly recognisable, having been shared a few months ago not just by angry activists in a dark corner of the internet, but by the mainstream media as headline news. Similarly, before the show begins the screen is filled with comments from social media bemoaning the plight of men in a world now run by women. Unlike the videos, we don’t need to be told that these are real; we’ve all seen enough of such comments on our own social media to know they can and do exist.
Angry Alan might appear at first glance to be a comedy (albeit a pretty dark one), and there are plenty of laughs to be had at the expense of both Roger and his new friends in the men’s right movement. But ironically, what this intelligent and thought-provoking play teaches us above all is that such toxic and damaging views are anything but funny – and perhaps the first step towards confronting them is to stop laughing.
Angry Alan is at Soho Theatre until 30th March.
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