Emma Packer
Camden People's Theatre

Emma Packer as Amy Credit: David Packer
Emma Packer as Amy Credit: David Packer

This is a re-written and further developed version of the show seen on the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014.

Despite the title, this isn’t a show that’s digital or even interactive. There’s not even a mobile 'phone let alone a computer in the whole show. I’m no computer buff but apparently you can use this three-key computer code to reboot a PC or bring up a forced quit of the OS. Maybe that is what the main character in this one-act, one-woman play wants: to reboot or quit her life, though that’s not what she tells us.

She is a girl, a woman really, who’s called Amy Jones. She’s quite a character, comes from Brixton and Emma Packer, who plays as well as having written her, gives her a strong accent that’s sometimes too accurate to be comprehensible. Her monologue moves sometimes from telling to re-enacting. Despite the intimacy of the venue, it takes some time before she develops real rapport with the audience, only when returning to direct address after a snatch of dialogue.

She tells us about her childhood, especially her granddad, sharing a memory of her happiness on a park playground swing with grandpa holding a melting “99” ready for her. Love, she says, is when you are with someone and nothing matters. Grandpa loved her and his allotment; his hero was Ghandi.

She had a friend called Ben who was always there, yet wasn’t. Mum didn’t like him. She was in the supermarket queue talking to her imaginary mate when a man asked to be introduced to him: mum got very embarrassed and angry.

Granddad took her swimming, bought her a costume: pinks with polka dots. It was so nice, she wouldn’t wear it in the water, took it off until she came back out again. Mum blamed her when granddad died, said she had “run him ragged.”

Her hero was Mandela. She wrote him lots of letters, carefully thought out in best writing with a stamp on, but her friend, the short, big-bellied postman, never brought her any answers. Much later, in her mother’s dressing table drawer, she found them: mum deliberately didn’t post them. Mum, whose treatment of her became increasingly violent, who couldn’t understand she time spent in writing and reading: Packer presents her too, pregnant but still drinking and smoking, not understanding.

Escaping her abusive childhood, Amy went to college; now she becomes more philosophical, more obviously political. Public lies and private lies that lead to more lies. Lies about arms deals, police brutality, Brexit. The lies we tell ourselves. “The white lies, the lies that lead to more lies and the lie that hides you from your truth. The lie that told Omar Mateen it wasn’t himself he hated but the LGBT community. The lie that convinced Omar to kill 49 people in Orlando this year.”

This coda of comment is clearly intended to be the most important part of the piece but it is too compacted. It is not the lighting changes and music that divide the performance structure to mark change of mood and topic but Packer’s own performance that makes the personal material moving and that indivualisation is missing in this broad-based material. It needs a tighter focus to make it as heartfelt and equally effective.

Remaining performances on certain nights only: 12, 13, 15 and 16 August.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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