While downstairs the lively pub follows a World Cup match between Holland and Mexico on large screens, upstairs at the Etcetera Emma Packer gives the audience half a football game’s worth of her time as Amy Jones, a foul-mouthed fifteen-year-old growing up as an only child in a dysfunctional family. Her room is filled with posters of the men she admires (and sometimes more than that): Doctor King, Gandhi, Mandela. She writes an innocent but bright letter to the South African hero only to find out that her mother never posted it, despite promising Amy that she would. This heralds an exposé on motherly jealousy of a gifted daughter and growing up unloved, which Packer delivers with poise in continuous streetwise rhyme. Although at times ostensibly a little nervous, the artist convinces as an adolescent lost between personal trouble and public affairs, of which many pass review – from the phone hacking inquiry to racist murder back to the expenses scandal via the 2011 riots. It all becomes a bit too much in the end, but it does reflect how overwhelming it must be for a politically aware teenager.
Amy grows up and over ten years she definitively falls out with her mother, causing her to be led astray briefly before being welcomed into a friend’s home. She wants to study and succeeds in getting into law school, giving the narrative a welcome positive twist at the end. However, it has to be said that Packer, as she sets Amy up as a product of British social misery, takes quite a leap in the finale of her story in order to attain a happy ending. Another point of criticism is the fact that the emotional breakdowns that the girl suffers last just a little bit too long, making for slightly uncomfortable viewing at times – it’s a matter of seconds, but in a small show, it makes the difference.
Amy’s politics are endearing and believable, although the show might benefit from selecting fewer social issues and letting Amy explore them more in depth. The props and designs Packer uses – the posters and a schoolgirl’s outfit, for example – help our imagination, while in my opinion the projection screen smack in the middle of the stage does not. It shows a home video of a happy little girl as an introduction to the show, and is later used to present a reel of news fragments relating to unrest and rioting, a feature that is so old and tired it is nearly (but not quite!) a daring choice again for live performance.
The narrative altogether is warm and engaging, and this is mainly thanks to Packer’s sense of balance and timing; there is laughter and there is sadness, and they work pretty well together here. Some elements seem slightly odd though, and it is with some regret that we see Amy turn out to conform to what she loathed when young: middle class values symbolised in wearing a smart suit. We’d rather have something more surprising, which would help make the character that little bit more of a human being than she already is. Overall, though, a charming show with heart. Catching it in Edinburgh is a good idea.
CTRL-ALT-DELETE played at Etcetera Theatre. For more information, see the Etcetera Theatre website.