What I miss about no longer being on Facebook is Jackie Hagan. She was always asking us daft questions like “If you made up a name for that bit of chip soaked in vinegar at the bottom of the tray, what would it be?” Well not exactly like that, but, like, more provocative stuff. And hundreds of us would answer. Hagan makes you think from somewhere low down in your stomach and deep in your heart. She reminds you how magical your shit times are, and how you don’t know it’s meant to be shit until someone tells you.
That girl knows about pain and she knows how to make you understand a little of what that means. When I first met Hagan, around 2006, I saw her perform a poem about depression and it very nearly physically stung me. In the toilets after the show, I said to her: “Jesus, I thought I was having it bad. But now I see I was just a little bit gloomy.” And she knows things are funny even if you don’t want them to be. When she was in hospital and they were trying to save her leg, they were going to use maggots to eat away the infection. The nurse had told her the maggots were £300. She said to me, “I felt like saying. Alright! It wasn’t my idea.”
Though it isn’t a real-life story, Cosmic Scallies is an unravelling of Hagan’s pondering on class and identity, set in Skem where Hagan is from. It doesn’t make you want to go to Skem, but it deters you from trying to ‘get’ Skem if you’re not from there.
But if you’ve been nurtured on a council estate, you’ll get Cosmic Scallies (currently showing at Manchester’s Royal Exchange). If you inherited a bottle of booze in a wicker cover and then one afternoon drank it with Vimto then this play is most certainly for you. If you hadn’t realised until you mixed in intellectual circles that your Ugg boots meant you didn’t listen to The Archers, or if you rely on a signature from the doctor to get you through the day, then you’ll get Cosmic Scallies.
I get sick of seeing stories that fast-track an audience on a streamlined drive to a perfectly formed end. These stories are so terrified of not being told, they dare not colour outside the edges. Some stories are painful nostalgia and electric shock epiphanies that burp onto the surface like bubbles in a hot pan of beans. Hagan’s characters don’t think they’re better or worse than anyone. They’re simply not going to pretend they don’t exist in order to fit in. They’re happy being weird. No one’s hero. No one’s nemesis. Just there, eating a pot noodle with a fag on, waiting for the pharmacy to open.
Cosmic Scallies is on at Manchester’s Royal Exchange until October 14, 2017. For more information or to book tickets, click here.