Ctrl+Alt+Delete, written and performed by Emma Packer, is a solo show introducing us to Amy Jones, a bubbly, optimistic young woman who adores her granddad, loves the Spice Girls, and writes repeatedly to her idol Nelson Mandela, never once considering that he might not reply. But there’s a darker side to Amy’s story; she’s been mentally and physically abused by her manipulative, violent mother throughout her childhood and teenage years, for reasons that she’s never been able to understand.
The piece is beautifully written, reflecting Amy’s love of creative writing; the language evokes some stunning images and often sounds more like poetry than prose. At times, the show flows almost like a stream of consciousness, jumping back and forth in time as both Amy and her mum share their memories with the audience. Packer plays both women, keeping the two totally distinct in accent, tone of voice and even appearance; while Amy has a wide-eyed, earnest expression, her mother wears a constant snarl as she remembers the many people who’ve angered her – above all, her young daughter – and the cold, calculating way she’s taken her revenge. Even when she finally reveals her motivation, there’s very little redemption in store for this character.
Alone at the centre of a bare stage, with only a chair for company, Emma Packer’s compelling performance absolutely commands our attention. Whether she’s laughing with her friend about Simon Cowell’s trousers, or tearfully remembering the death of her grandad (an event hinted at but never fully explained), we’re with Amy all the way. It’s at the end of the show that things start to go slightly off course, as the focus suddenly switches from Amy’s personal journey to a broader political statement, in which parallels are drawn between the betrayal of an abusive parent and the lies of those in power that have led to everything from the London riots to Brexit. It’s not that the metaphor doesn’t make sense – it just happens very suddenly and, frustratingly, interrupts a story that isn’t quite over yet, and in which we’ve become increasingly absorbed.
As the story of a young girl struggling to understand why her mother – the one person who should love her unconditionally – seems to despise the very sight of her, Ctrl+Alt+Delete is a powerful show. As a political statement, though there’s no doubting Emma Packer’s passion, it feels slightly clumsy and a touch heavy-handed in its conclusion. That said, there’s a lot of food for thought in this story about abuse on many levels, and an important message in there if it could only be worked in a little more smoothly from the start of the show.
Ctrl+Alt+Delete is at Camden People’s Theatre until 16th August.