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Jackie Hagan on performing her work overseas: ‘People get really emotional about the show’

This Is Not a Safe Space performer Jackie Hagan tells Nick Awde of the global interest in her work since appearing at the IETM plenary held in Hull in March 2019… [1]

This year’s IETM plenary featured a performance strand. It was uniquely British yet boldly universal for the international delegates who gathered in Hull for the last four days of March – scheduled to tie in with March 29, the date originally proposed for Brexit.


Jackie Hagan, best described as “working-class, queer, disabled, poet, performer and theatremaker”, was invited to showcase her dissection of UK society, This Is Not a Safe Space [2]. It was a canny choice to present to a Europe that’s now uniting around inclusivity and is curious about how this has evolved in the UK, where the performing arts have long been a leader in the field.

Considering that international audience, did Hagan have to consider making some concessions in making her full-on delivery and content, well, accessible? “Yeah, of course,” she acknowledges. “My show is very chatty, I make a direct emotional connection with the audience [members], I acknowledge them a lot, it’s very intimate, so I want them to know what I’m on about most of the time.

“So, problem one is, I have a big Scouse accent – the obvious choice is to water that down and speak clearly and more in line with received pronunciation. However, in my workshops and panels I talk a lot about how working-class artists have pressure from various angles to drag up as middle class in order to get in and fit in, which means changing your vernacular and sense of humour, reference points, and watering down your accent. So rather than watering down my accent for international performances, I use captions, which fulfils my other obsession – accessibility.”

I did a vocab game at the start to teach the audience words like ‘cob on’, ‘when the leccy goes’, and ‘minge’

Hagan did, though, change some references that wouldn’t land. “I changed Jedward to Donald Trump, which sounds crazy but the gag was basically poking fun at Jedward/Trump for being unlikely to exist, so when it’s Jedward it’s more laughter, with Trump there’s more sad fury. I also swapped ‘The blonde woman from Birds of a Feather’ to ‘your nan when she takes her teeth out’ – that one is explaining what my stump looks like before I do stumpuppetry (I’m an amputee).

“I also changed things like product names and some slang. For the bits I didn’t want to change, I did a vocab game at the start to teach the audience words like ‘cob on’, ‘when the leccy goes’, and ‘minge’.”

Awareness of Hagan’s work has already started spreading overseas. She was in Rio recently for a slam, and then performed an excerpt from This Is Not a Safe Space in Toronto at the second Cripping the Arts symposium. As a result of IETM, there’s now interest from Germany, Hong Kong and Australia.

“It’s interesting and important to know if the class stuff in the show lands and resonates with other countries, seeing as we’re known for being class-obsessed, but it really seems to work. I talk about some serious stuff, but I don’t shame anyone. The feedback [at IETM] was fab. People get really emotional about the show, but are energised by the freedom to be open when it comes to stuff about disability and class without being judged.”

For more information on Jackie Hagan, see jackiehagan.org [3]

This Is Not a Safe Space review at Camden People’s Theatre – ‘politically urgent’ [2]