Written and performed by Jackie Hagan, This Is Not a Safe Space interweaves recorded narratives with poetry, puppetry and anecdotes to celebrate the weird and wonderful world of ‘wonky people.’ Gemma Nash caught the premiere at Contact Theatre, Manchester 27-28 October 2017.
This Is Not a Safe Space, an Unlimited (administered by Shape and Artsadmin) commission, challenges the relentless scapegoating and stereotyping of working class disabled people in today’s society.
Just like her rainbow hair and prosthetic leg draped in fairy lights, Hagan’s language is colourful, quirky and wonderfully expressive. Her unique blend of poetry and stand up comedy (including a game of metaphorical Kerplunk) brings stories of those on the margins of society to the stage.
“Don’t tell me I’m brave every five minutes just for eating a Twix.”
The intertwined recorded narratives gives the show a real sense of community involvement and intrigue. From the prospect of sheep taking over the world to death by laughter, these testimonies show rounded lives full of sharp humour. It also cleverly exposes the language of ‘welfare’ now replaced by the destructive language of ‘benefits‘ – a perfect antidote to programs like Benefits Street.
The set design is vibrant but simplistic. Three narrow trolleys full of ‘junk’ (including two zimmer frames, several walking sticks and a commode) stand tall behind Hagan. These three ‘junk’ sculptures provide a lovely visual representation of the wonderful stories we are told. Stories that contrast against the various ways that working class disabled people are portrayed as either tragic burdensome victims or ’feckless’ scroungers.
“We’re important, there are tonnes of us and we’re not victims, saints or sinners. We’re people.”
As Hagan notes, these ‘feckless’ people are often scolded for doing things ‘posh’ people do all the time. For example, sitting in front of huge televisions watching mundane soap operas, whereas middle class watch Jim Cartwright remakes on big cinema screens or in theatres. Working class stories, apparently, can only be enjoyed by certain audiences and only in a certain medium.
“I grew up on a council estate, I’ve got one leg and I’m bipolar. I know you have to take the mickey out of things to get by”
Whilst still avoiding ‘pity porn’ or empathy fatigue, The Is Not a Safe Space sensitively addresses the harsh reality of navigating our modern social security system. Hagan’s ingenious ‘fantasy PIP claim form’ reclaims and reimagines an experience most would describe as humiliating and distressing. It is both hilarious and touching in equal measures. Here’s one of my favourite questions from the fantasy form:
❑ awesome ❑awesome wonky ❑wonky with strains of awesomeness
At the end of the show, Hagan turns each of the trolleys round to reveal an illuminated high rise with little windows that gradually light up. A poignant reminder that working class people are not just a homogenous group of ‘chavs’ – everyone has a story to be told and celebrated!
I thoroughly enjoyed this show and would definitely recommend it.
This is Not a Safe Space will be touring the UK throughout 2018. Visit Jackie Hagan’s website for further details.