The MP, Aunty Mandy & Me review
The MP, Aunty Mandy & Me
Dom is a young gay man who is obssesed with two things: getting likes on Instagram and steam trains. Life is tough when your posts get few likes, you live with your pill-popping mum in a backwater Northern town and you just can’t find a bloke who shares your love of locomotives. When his local train station is threatened with closure, Dom takes the issue to his local MP Peter, who turns everything upside-down by offering him a job and experiences in the big city. Although, this charming man isn’t all he seems.
The play tackles issues of politics, sexuality, class and abuse. I was personally blown away by the entire performance, preferring political and non traditional theatre. The set was simplistic but expertly used lighting to enhance the performance. While the venue was compact, the Moor Space was a wonderful little theatre for such abstract and small-scale performance.
Every character is played by one actor, Rob Ward - who expertly transitions from the excited, young protagonist Dom to his ageing drugged up scouse mother Mel. His facial expressions were crystal clear in conveying the change of character alongside liberal use of prop and costume. All his accents, traditional Northern dialects are delivered to further distinguish the different characters - almost in the way that Dom himself is re-telling his story, using different voices to differentiate the people in his life. Given I’m from a small Northern town with some scouse lineage myself, hearing the often exaggerated different accents was both engaging, entertaining as well as homely and heartening.
Dom’s sexuality is used in this performance as a catalyst. It drives one of his desires, namely trying to recreate the success of his gay Instagram icon, who gets significantly more likes than he does. This desire, as well as his sexuality, is used by Peter to abuse him. Using praise and coercion, offering Dom a job and isolating him to gain sexual favours. This is the primary issue throughout the play, that Peter is merely controlling an impressionable young gay man to use him for sex. Increasingly offering Dom new experiences, using his higher class and age to invite him to the city, his apartment with a hot tub and to buy him drinks and MDMA. The way Peter uses his language carefully to mentally entice Dom and make him feel at ease, claiming he loves him, that he is a good friend and that Dom means a lot to him are all examples of his dark seduction. Peter’s education, his class and status, his job all give him power over Dom which he ultimately exploits.
While not explicitly mentioned, I think Dom has been neurodivergent-coded in this performance: his hyper fixation on certain passions, his distinct and often considered curt way he talks to the rest of the characters and the very intense way he experiences panic attacks or describes the feelings of doing drugs are certainly typical of the neurodivergent experience. Within the performance, the way Dom perceives the world would be considered naive by neurotypicals and highlights the distressing situation that he finds himself in as we witness sexual and mental abuse from his perspective. Often, this is played comically as his use of vulgar language, pop culture references and exaggerated tone is very humorous, despite the overhanging feeling that something is very, very wrong. The queer neurodivergent struggle isn’t often portrayed in media, but seeing it given the spotlight here was a real treat.
As a bi man myself, the introduction of fellow male bisexual character Joey who worked as a poltical intern was incredibly bemusing. Not least because I’ve done this myself, but because his portrayal was so raw. Joey’s character was implemented as a better queer romantic partner for Dom than Peter is, sharing similar interests and being a closer age. The play is unapologetic in how queer stereotypes are used to portray us, not least from within our community. Joey, breaking from the bisexual stereotype of being a multi-partnered, sexual deviant instead questions the culture of gay men as exactly this - completely misreading the cycle of abuse Dom is facing as merely another gay man sleeping with many of his gay friends. This idea that all queer people are hypersexual isn’t just permeated into straight, cis society but within the many groups of the LGBT+ community too.
Coming from a political, queer and possibly neurodivirgent background myself it felt like this performance couldn’t have been more directed at someone like me. It is unapologetic and at times, uncomfortable in its portrayal of the reality of abuse. It is a warning, a political comedy with a bleak message. Every undertone of utter horror that befalls our protagonist is played for laughs which often, is the sad reality that victims of abuse will face. Their cries for help will be met with indifference at best, shame and mockery at worst.
Aunty Mandy (MDMA) is a presence throughout the play. The drugs are their own form of control and lack of control simultaneously. Mel uses them to chase a high and retain a semblance of control over her world, where her husband left her. Peter uses them as an escape from his intense job as MP but ultimately uses them to engage in chemsex with Dom. It’s alluded to that Dom’s Mum ends up ‘going away’ for a bit after a particularly heated argument and upon returning is staying away from the drugs. Clearly, she has attended and left drug rehab after seeing what the drugs she had relied on for years had affected her own son.
The sad truth is, the play ends in a return to the status quo with few problems resolved. Much as in real life, abuse is buried, those in power remain to continue their abuse and only after the worst moments can people begin to pick up the pieces. Dom claims he won ultimately, as the two issues that matter to him are resolved: The train station remains open and he gains more followers on Instagram. Such simple goals gained through the loss of innocence and abuse don’t seem justified and yet this is often the reality faced by victims. Peter faces no repercussions for his abuse and Dom is scarred from his experience.
I feel like this review hasn’t quite established how much fun I had with this performance. There were some genuine laugh out loud moments and despite the subject matter being incredibly serious and dark, Rob’s performance kept me engaged and smiling throughout. It really was the kind of performance that should you wish to, you can read an awful lot into and analyse or simply enjoy on a surface level as a fringe comedy.
It is brutal, yet beautiful. Hilarious and heartbreaking.
If you are queer, political and looking to open your eyes and find them filled with both tears of laughter and sadness - this is a must watch.