Real stories of life at the margins come to Banbury in new show

Jackie Hagan
Jackie Hagan

A new show taking a frank and funny look at what it means to live at the margins of society comes to Banbury next month.

This Is Not A Safe Space is a solo show from award-winning poet, playwright and stand-up comedian Jackie Hagan. It will be performed at The Mill on Saturday, September 15.

To make the show, Jackie conducted more than 80 interviews with people living on benefits in the north of England. Excerpts of some of these recorded interviews are played throughout the show.

The piece was created in an attempt to counter what Jackie saw as extreme portrayals of people on benefits - from the ‘scroungers’ on Benefits Street to the ‘saints’ like the protagonist of I, Daniel Blake.

Jackie wanted to create a show that portrayed people on benefits in all their complexities, and demonstrate that the most vulnerable people in our society are still people, aiming to show the humour and warmth of the people she interviewed without downplaying the struggles they face on a daily basis.

The production is in part inspired by Jackie’s own experience of growing up in working class communities in the north, and her experiences of being a disabled person.

Jackie’s performance combines stand-up comedy and spoken word poetry with excerpts from the recorded interviews. During each of the recordings, Jackie uses simple but effective object manipulation and DIY puppetry to help bring each of the interviewees to life.

She said: “I wrote this show because I’m sick of seeing people like me misrepresented on rubbish shows like Benefits Street and ignored by theatre.

“I’m sick of people thinking we all just need to try a bit harder and stop spending our time drinking lager and watching our massive tellies. I grew up on a council estate, I’ve got one leg and I’m bipolar. I know you have to take the mickey out of things to get by. This show says we’re important, there’s tons of us and we’re not victims, saints or sinners. We’re people.”

Far from sob stories, these testimonies reveal fully rounded lives full of spiky humour. Jackie weaves these narratives together with poetry and anecdotes, celebrating the weird, the wonky, the unruly and the resilient.

There’s Trish who is sick of doctors not taking her seriously because she is mentally ill and disobedient; Neil who got arrested for the first time because “you can’t run when you’re laughing”; and Karen who is a wheelchair user who thinks we’d be better off letting sheep take over the world because humans are making a pig’s ear of it.

The Guardian described the show as “a hymn to those who are hanging on by their fingertips but refusing to let go”.

Jackie describes herself as a working-class queer disabled poet, performer and theatre maker. Her work focuses on celebrating the experiences of people left out of the mainstream.

Her solo show Some People Have Too Many Legs won the 2015 Saboteur Award for Best Spoken Word Show and toured nationally to venues including Hull Truck and Bristol Old Vic. Her debut play Cosmic Scallies was commissioned by Graeae and ran at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in summer 2017.

The performance will be interpreted in British Sign Language. It runs for one hour and aims to “get people to sit up, listen and care and not keel over with empathy-fatigue”.

The show starts at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £15.

Visit themillartscentre.co.uk or call the box office on 01295 279002 to book or for more information.