Angry Alan at the Soho Theatre: a ‘radically different’ retelling of modern anger
Alberto Tondello reviews Angry Alan at Soho Theatre. Penelope Skinner’s Fringe First Award winning play returns to London after a sell-out run at the Edinburgh Fringe.
There could not have been a more suited day to see Penelope Skinner’s Angry Alan. On the 8thof March 2019, as millions of women march around the world for International Women Day, Roger (Donald Sage Mackay) meets angry Alan, pioneer of men’s right campaigners. The encounter, of course, does not happen in person but online, the result of a morning browse which, from a link at the bottom of an email to an article about cutting giant snakes open, leads Roger all the way to Alan and his militant ideas against our gynocentric society.
Rightly described as a “darkly comic play”, Angry Alan has the ability to entertain while shedding a light on a frightening reality. The audience cannot help laughing as Roger becomes an advocate of Alan’s views about how men are mistreated in today’s society. Yet, behind the chuckling brought about by Penelope Skinner’s witty monologue looms the uncomfortable truth that Alan’s ideas are truly out there, shared by more and more frustrated men (as the YouTube videos projected during the show keep reminding the audience).
While angry Alan’s views on masculinity does not, alas, sound new, the play does a great job in portraying the character of Roger, a middle age white man brilliantly played by Donald Sage Mackay. Utterly alone and deeply unhappy with his life, Roger is stuck in a job he hates, and estranged from his 14-year-old son who lives with his ex-wife as a result of a divorce and of the judicial system’s favouritism towards women. The world wide web, as it too often does nowadays, provides the safety net Roger is desperately missing in the real world, offering the hope for a community with a common purpose.
What the play reveals is the fragility of men like Roger, and the way such men fight this fragility by recurring to traits that are typical of the most toxic masculinity: the necessity to feel powerful, to be centre-stage and prevail on others. The strength of the show lies exactly in its ability to deal with this subject in a radically different way. Penelope Skinner’s text tells the story of an angry man without imposing any judgment. While the audience’s reaction cast a rather unambiguous light on Roger and Alan’s views, in the play Roger is never portrayed as a ridiculous character, but is forced to come to terms with his insecurities during a dramatic hike with his son. As it reaches its climax, shifting the spotlight from Roger’s egocentric views to his son’s misunderstood necessities, the play ends, if somehow abruptly, leaving the audience with the desire to keep thinking about Roger’s humorous but ultimately tragic situation.
Angry Alan is at Soho Theatre until the 30th March, 2019.
Feature photograph credit: Matt Beach; production photograph credit: The Other Richard.