Jackie Hagan is an award-winning playwright, the 2018 Jerwood Compton Poetry fellow, and working class. And so, the monologue that makes up This Is Not A Safe Space, and kicks off Camden People’s Theatre’s Common People Festival, is an ode to the status given to her by society. Sometimes playful – “I know the middle classes also have problems because I have slept with a number of you” – yet often heart-breaking, this mixture of poetry, comedy and personal tales of living with disability hooks you in, and demands that you feel.
Hagan is first and foremost a wordsmith, and the poetry that threads through the jokes drives the emotion of the piece. The jumps and twists from spoken word to more prosaic comic quips create an accomplished texture and give her message even greater punch. Hagan uses her talent to unravel society’s and the government’s view of the working class and disabled, delving into her own experience of disability and her mental health problems. One of the most poignant moments is her reimagining of a PIP (Personal Independence Payment) form, turning the negative reductive questions into something more positive, exposing the inequality of the experience as she does.
Hagan wants to shock you, and throughout This Is Not A Safe Space, snippets of interviews with working class disabled people are pumped into the room. Their stories are relevant and a reminder that what you are watching is more than just theatre, but reality. That said, the interviews lack the context to have enough impact, and the symbolic actions that Hagan makes while the audience listens to these other stories are sadly a slight distraction. Basically, they fail to evoke the same level of emotion as Hagan’s own tale, who stands before you, her complete self.
The set design by Katharine Heath is the jewel in the crown. The three pillars at the back of the stage with their detritus from everyday living – dolls, toy sheep, a globe – remind of the average person’s shelves. Yet, at the end as Hagan turns them around to reveal that these are tower blocks, and as the lights go out one by one the final message is clear. Neglect of the working classes led to Grenfell, and that we cannot forget.
This Is Not A Safe Space played Camden People’s Theatre on 18 April
Photo: Camden People’s Theatre