Pros: Fascinating glimpse of real-life misogynists
Cons: The narrative is not always convincing
A large projection screen in this cavernous venue scrolls through cherry-picked Twitter tweets of anti-feminist whinges. It’s an effective – if rather un-nuanced – way for writer Penelope Skinner to set out the stall of her latest play: as the ancient patriarchy starts to crumble, some men are biting back in a desperate attempt to perpetuate the status quo.
The show stars Donald Sage Mackay (Skinner’s real-life partner, but hopefully not source material) as Roger, a divorced dad going through a midlife crisis. Roger resents the alimony he has to pay his ex-wife, and the lack of contact he has with his son Joe. He has also lost his job, and although he’s in a new relationship, he is clearly feeling disenfranchised and looking for someone to blame.
Roger is ripe for radicalisation by the Men’s Rights Movement. We’re shown genuine YouTube footage of middle-aged men bemoaning the fact that women want equality not servitude, and hearing these bizarrely insular views expressed in earnest by real people is an education in itself – funny and scary in equal measure. It’s sometimes difficult to credit the existence of these individuals without first-hand evidence.
Roger finds a sympathetic reflection of his discontent in the online rants of Angry Alan – a fictionalised version of real MRM campaigners. Roger becomes a fervent disciple of Angry Alan, and pays more than he can afford to attend a conference for similarly disaffected men terrified of the encroaching “gynocentrism” of society.
Fascinating and disturbing as the MRM is, it’s a fairly soft target for a liberal theatre audience, and Skinner’s narrative doesn’t offer much in the way of insight. Roger falls straight into the neo-sexist mindset with barely a flicker of mistrust, making him a very gullible protagonist. Are we being invited to believe that all that’s necessary for good men to turn bad is a self-pitying resentment of their misfortunes?
A note on the sound design, which I found very odd. It was largely abstract and low in volume – sometimes I thought it was sound bleed from outside (all too common in Edinburgh Fringe venues) and at others that someone in the audience had left their phone on.
The play’s final act sees the conference coinciding with some rare father-son time between Roger and Joe, during which Roger reacts insensitively to his son’s tentative exploration of gender fluidity. This didn’t feel particularly convincing, and led to one of those regrettably anti-climactic endings in which the audience are uneasily unsure if the play is over until the curtain call occurs. There are few more uncomfortable feelings in theatre than the bewildered “Is it finished now?”. It was an unfortunate note on which to end a play based on a significant modern phenomenon, which ultimately presented an interesting premise without interrogating it sufficiently.
Writer: Penelope Skinner
Producer: Francesca Moody Productions
Playing until: 26 August 2018
Booking link: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/angry-alan-by-penelope-skinner