A darkly comic play about masculinity in crisis by award-winning playwright Penelope Skinner, created with and performed by Donald Sage Mackay. Sophie Talbot reviews Angry Alan:

International Women’s Day. I’m in the Soho Theatre bar, scrolling through my Twitter feed, casting my eyes over reams of posts celebrating mothers, sisters, friends, girlfriends…

Ten minutes later, as I take my seat for Penelope Skinner‘s Angry Alan, I’m confronted with totally different posts about women. It’s not hard to imagine the vitriol.

Angry Alan Soho Theatre

Donald Sage Mackay (image courtesy of The Other Richard)

Then we meet Roger. He’s been through a lot. He lost his wife and son (he’s divorced and paying alimony), and his big-shot job. But he found Alan.

Alan is a leader of the men’s rights movement, and his online posts are responsible for Roger’s “red pill” moment. Feminism has gone too far. We’re living in a gynocentric society, and it’s causing men to suffer. Skinner’s script is crammed full of satire like this, and it’s very funny.

Roger shows us videos posted by Alan. Men are telling other men they’re oppressed by women. The audience’s laughter is an act of defiance.

One of the videos reminds me of a podcast episode I listened to, about this sweet, self-effacing Canadian woman who created an online support group for people who were involuntary celibate. Gradually, however, to her horror, the community became a place for men, self-identified “Incels”, to blame women for their problems and espouse misogyny.

My smirk fades when I remember the disclaimer from the beginning of the show. The videos Roger is showing us are real, and they’re everywhere. The internet is a breeding ground for subcultures like the Incels.

Donald Sage Mackay (image courtesy of The Other Richard)

Skinner’s monologue is a sound observation of these movements. Alan, whom we never see, is an Alex-Jones type, exploiting everyday guys like Roger and the lack of outlet for their pain in a world that discourages men from talking about their feelings. Alan doesn’t care about male suicide helplines – Roger’s donation goes straight into his pockets.

The bare-bones set – a chair and projection against the back wall – and Skinner’s deft but no-nonsense direction makes way for her character study of Roger. Because he’s what’s so interesting. When you think men’s rights activist, you may think Malcolm Tucker screaming misogyny. But here Skinner has written, and Donald Sage Mackay is sublime as, a reasonable, personable, almost charming, man whose views seem misguided rather than malicious. Roger doesn’t get us on board with the truly awful things he says, but we’re not necessarily against him either.

Donald Sage Mackay (image courtesy of Matt Beach)

Skinner and Mackay do not completely comdemn Roger, which shows us just how dangerous figures like Alan are – they fuel division by sweeping ordinary, disenfranchised people off their feet. And this danger is played out in a unprecedented twist as the piece hurtles towards the finish line.

Whilst Skinner’s script is razor-sharp and sardonic, and Mackay is seriously brilliant, Angry Alan doesn’t quite make the threat of the subcultures it explores palpable. I want the piece to dig a bit deeper – explore its American backdrop and the repercussions of men’s rights movements for women. I want Roger to stick around for a bit longer.

As I leave the theatre and open my Twitter, Angry Alan makes me doubly appreciate the support for women in my feed.

But I’m also absolutely terrified of the vile posts about women out there. The ones that people like Roger might come across.

★★★★☆

Angry Alan plays at the Soho Theatre until 30 March 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the venue website.