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

Jackie Hagan Jackie Hagan

“I’m not going to make this fluffy for you,” says poet and performer Jackie Hagan in her solo show This Is Not a Safe Space. Based on her extensive interviews with disabled people living on disability benefits, the work combines audio fragments of the interviewees with Hagan’s own commentary on life as a working-class disabled woman.

Staged as part of the Camden People’s Theatre’s Common People festival, This Is Not a Safe Space is as much about working-class identity and experience as it is about the effects of recent changes to the benefits system. The cleverness of the piece is in showing how governmental actions towards people living in poverty are absolutely underwritten by hard-rooted prejudices that see them as lazy, underserving, wasteful or simply evil.

Hagan is a very warm, welcoming and funny performer. The poems she includes in the show are among the best parts and contain some lovely, lyrical phrases (“we have stretch marks on our memories”) artfully tossed in between more prosaic observations.

The passages taken from the interviews are less well integrated and seem slightly underused. Structurally, the piece could also be tightened up. Katharine Heath’s set design, however, is excellent. Three panels covered in the detritus of family living – soft toys, dolls’ houses, a globe, small furniture – flip around to resemble modern tower blocks.

Without verbally stating it, Hagan’s point is clear: the end-point of authoritative neglect, and the attitudes shaping them, is disasters like Grenfell. And there’s no way of sugar-coating that.

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Politically urgent show about disability and poverty is wryly humorous and affecting