views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Camden People's Theatre
12th August 2016


Emma Packer

Photography © David Packer

If you're a bit of a technophobe, you might not be aware that CTRL+ALT+DELETE both serves as an emergency exit and a means of switching user and becoming someone else. This command is therefore perhaps apt to describe a play in which the central protagonist has clawed her way out of a horrific situation and in which the sole actress plays more than one character. However, given CTRL+ALT+DELETE has nothing to do with tech, I wouldn't blame you for finding the title a bit obscure...

CTRL+ALT+DELETE is a one-woman show written and performed by Packer in which her main protagonist Amy talks at us. Non-stop. She's wide-eyed and innocent with a certain naiveté that is more irritating than endearing, yet makes us feel instinctively protective of her. It is interesting to note that even though she may grate on us, our natural reaction is to want to look after her. She seems like she needs that extra support. Yet Amy's biological mother doesn't appear to feel the slightest twinge of maternal protectiveness. Packer's play explores one of society's remaining great taboos: the uncomfortable truth that not all mums do love their offspring unconditionally.

It's alway difficult to make a monologue truly engaging, particularly with such sparse staging and nothing to hide behind. If you have any illusions of complicated technological trickery from the title, you'll be disappointed: the show is simply Packer and a chair. There's nothing fancy or clever about the set or costume choices, the whole production hinges on Packer's performance itself. It's therefore lucky that Packer does have such strong acting skills, her delivery very credible and accent never wavering. There's a sadness behind the big, bright eyes with Amy's words tinged with sorrow. Oh, she's a survivor, but her past has left an indelible mark on her.

Given what we come to learn about Amy, it makes sense that she's a chatterbox, enthusiastically talking about everything and anything, her stories jumping from one memory to another. However it's hard to fathom how a play about domestic violence deteriorates into a rant about the recession, the riots and even Brexit. It's all about the "lies" explains Amy with her South London drawl, but her anger feels misplaced and these very modern financial woes shoehorned into a tragic dialogue to make it more current. This does take away from the impact of Packer's majestic performance.

Although we meet a grown up Amy, reflecting on her experiences as a child, the poetic language isn't in keeping with her character. It also makes it challenging to bond with her, the unnaturalistic words creating an unnecessary barrier between her and us. Whilst there's definitely something about her, it's not enough to hold our attention for the entire hour, there are points where the non-stop narrative becomes overwhelming. Director Katherine Hayes has a thankless job in trying to fight the inevitability of a deliberately rambling monologue having the odd lull.

We don't get a huge deal of time with Amy's mother, making it impossible for us to really get inside her head. Now, maybe this is deliberate, with Packer deciding we shouldn't experience any kind of sympathy for the woman, but I think that should be the audience's call. Either flesh out these final scenes (there's other material that could be happily discarded to free up some time for this) or cut out the mum altogether. A half-story is always frustrating.

At no point did I want to frantically jab at CTRL+ALT+DELETE to get this play to end. However even though this is a reworked version of a festival show from last year, the script does still feel like it could do with some fine-tuning. A gritty piece featuring some strong characterisation.

CTRL+ALT+DELETE opened on 8th August and runs until 16th August 2016 at Camden People's Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Warren Street (Northern, Victoria)

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