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CTRL+ALT+DELETE – Camden People’s Theatre, London

Writer: Emma Packer
Director: Katherine Hayes
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

CTRL+ALT+DELETE writer Emma Packer believes we live in asociety based on lies; political lies designed to convince us to vote a certain way, societal lies that scapegoat minority groups for our wider failings and popular lies that keep the gossip columns full of supposed scandal. But underneath all of that, are the personal lies, the ones we tell ourselves to excuse our individual behaviours and mask our own nature from us.

We first meet Amy Jones as she reminisces about her 80s childhood, her love of sport, an imaginary friend, knowledge of the Spice Girls and her antics with pal Simone. Most of all she loved her granddad and the time they spent together at his allotment. But this is only half the story because Amy is the victim of domestic violence, regularly beaten by her mother, which affects the adult she becomes.

Emma Packer’s one-woman show is cleverly disarming; using direct narrative and re-enactment, it begins with lots of happy stories told in a series of short scenes that initially seems like it will be an entirely conventional play told from one perspective. But then Packer introduces the character of Amy’s mother and the tone immediately becomes much darker, as the story moves back and forth in time, taking in the months before Amy’s birth, as well as various happy and terrible moments in her young life.

While the character of Amy is likeable and her story is very affecting, it is the decision to show the mother that really sets this apart and gives the show considerable impact. Hearing someone describe what’s been done to them can be horrifying, but seeing the other perspective, an aggressive, monstrous and damaged woman hitting out at an innocent, but not able to see the extent of their own actions is a brave and insightful comment on the nature of abusers. This idea that they mask their behaviour to lie to themselves is a challenging one but is sensitively handled to add a thought-provoking richness to this show.

It does have its lighter moments and the contrast of Amy’s happiness and the harm she suffers is nicely balanced. Packer also mines modern forms of language, capturing the tone and speech pattern of Brixton and drawing humour from the speed of interaction between Amy and her friend, Simone. These are voices that are still rarely heard in the theatre and important to understand how different communities have experienced London life in the last 30 years.

CTRL+ALT+DELETE is essentially a two-hander skilfully performed by one person, and while it vividly imagines certain key moments in young Amy’s life, there are a number of gaps that might add further context. Although we see Amy’s mother drinking and smoking while pregnant, there’s no mention of a father or any other family members. Nor do we hear much about her school life, no teachers, friend’s parents or social workers who may have noticed what was happening or tried to help. Packer has presented an eye-opening drama about the multiple meanings of domestic abuse but perhaps there is scope to weave some guidance into the story on who to turn to.

It’s clear from Amy’s final rousing narrative that Packer has a clear message about the devastating consequences of lies that cover everything from the financial crisis to Brexit, and the subsequent lack of accountability. It does become a rant about wanting a better world that moves away somewhat from the more intimate drama presented in the story, but CTRL+ALT+DELETE is still a strong call for individuals to take greater responsibility, stop the lies, and help to reboot society.

Runs until 16 August 2016 | Image: David Packer

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