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13th November 2017

Review: This Is Not A Safe Space

Jade Fox reviews Jackie Hagan’s ‘amputee comedy’ — part of Contact’s Flying Solo Festival 2017

With the tagline “Benefit cuts are hitting disabled people the hardest” it is hard to know what kind of performance to expect. It turns out it’s comedy. Comedy with purpose.

The Flying Solo festival intends to “celebrate radical solo performance”. The content of Jackie’s work was certainly radical; she immediately addressed taboos which she rightly pointed out are only discussed via Benefits Street.

She befriended the audience from the very first joke. There was a lengthy opening discussion containing lots of disclaimers but this was needed to create an open conversational environment. Some of the most profound moments were when Jackie was simply talking to the audience in a lightly structured, naturally comedic way.

She felt like a real person because of course she is. It is easy for television and even theatre to turn working class life into easy voyeurism. However, Jackie worked as a middle man. Her audience were prepped and ready to laugh during the vignettes of her interviews with “proper skint disabled people” — this is laughing with and not at — meaning our reception was respectful.

We were also prepped for something else. The serious stuff. Jackie didn’t seek to make disabled people seem helpless, nor did she ask for sympathy. She just said it how it was. Her spoken word pieces caused the audience to cheer in support. Her masterful grasp on creating rhythm in the subject matter meant that listening to her was modern day poetry. Poetry because of its beauty and modern day because of its topic. Benefits fraud became something that made a bit of sense and NHS cuts seemed even crueller. She knows how to shine a light where it hurts.

Her BSL interpreter became her comedy duo partner. Many moments of hilarity came from the simple translation of bell-end into sign language. It also highlighted the need for more disabled access in theatres.

One of the things Jackie was correct in noting was the eagerness of theatres to get disabled people into the audience yet most are doing very little to get them on to the stage.

In the Q and A following the show Jackie claimed her work’s title changed from Jumble Soul because she “realised this wasn’t a fluffy show. It was amputee comedy — hard sell”.

It may indeed be difficult to get people through the door but once they’re there they’ll be pleasantly surprised. There is moment after moment of importance. One of the hardest hitting parts was the reclaiming of the PIP form. A form whose very design turns people from humans into boxes to tick or leave blank.

Jackie’s version of a PIP form was beautiful — her re-jigging of the questions turned it from an inhuman measure of value to a human one. Upon leaving the theatre ‘Jackie’s PIP form’ was given to us and reading it only solidified the message we had been lucky to receive in the hour gone by.

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