Playwright Penelope Skinner’s ‘big’ show at the Fringe this year is ‘Meek’ at the Traverse. It’s not very good, a humourless ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ knockoff that seems to play against all the traditional strengths of the socially astute, scabrously funny Skinner.
Fortunately, her ‘little’ show is much better. ‘Angry Alan’ is a monologue send up of masculine entitlement and the shitshow that is the meninist/alt right/incel movements.
It concerns Roger, an American man who feels oppressed by feminism. There is the danger of being a bit on-the-nose. But Skinner’s script is not only extremely funny, but it also makes Roger unexpectedly likeable, even as it condemns his views.
In this Skinner – who also directs – is aided considerably by her performer, US actor Donald Sage Mackay, who has an irresistible, Rob Delaney-style manboy affability to him. It’s not that we really agree with him on anything. It’s just that he’s too hapless to see as a monster. Divorced, and filled with unresolved anger at his unceremonious sacking from his well-paid former job, his genial exterior conceals a rage and frustration that he seems largely oblivious to.
One day, though, he happens across Angry Alan, a Jordan Peterson/Alex Jones/Milo Yiannopoulos-style ‘online activist’ who explains how all male suffering can be attributed to the overwhelming success of feminism, which has tipped the world into a ‘gynocentric’ society, in which men are persecuted for just being men. Roger says this not with hate in his eyes, but with childish credulity and puppyish enthusiasm, like he’s sharing probable truths from a really interesting nature documentary he just watched.
Does it let Roger off the hook making him this likeable? Not really: the views he spouts are vile, despite his reasonable tone, and it’s a more powerful skewering for not making him a frothing extremist. Things do escalate, though: attendance at a conference hosted by Alan ill-advisedly combined with a bonding camping trip with his half-estranged son culminates in a twist I saw coming but a shock ending I didn’t.
Skinner’s production is accompanied by projections, which actually broke down entirely on the performance I saw. But it’s a testament to Skinner’s excellent script and – angry, teasing, funny, compassionate – Mackay superb turn that it didn’t seem to matter. If ‘Meek’ was an experiment that didn’t really work, this is the real Penelope Skinner, and it’s good to have her back.