Review: The Last Incel

As the lights come down, the audience is greeted with the demonic laughter from a group of incels.

We’re quickly filled in on their perceived failings and inferiorities, along with the last time they touched a woman.

What becomes immediately apparent however, is that this “support” group is anything but, with the members throwing slurs and insults about with wreckless abandon and mocking each other for their failure to commit suicide. 

            What follows is an occasionally surreal (interpretive dance abounds), often darkly comedic dive into the rabbithole that is the online incel, or “involuntary celibate”, community.

For those lucky few who are unaware, incels are a primarily online community almost exclusively composed of dissaffected young men filled with an intense loathing and resentment for themselves, the world and most importantly women, who they simultaneously worship as objects of desire and despise for their supposed inferiority and capriciousness. 

            In The Last Incel, writer Jamie Sykes manages to deftly balance a nuanced criticism of the incels, pointing to their own lack of personal responsibility and propensity to blame everyone but themselves as the source of their woes, while also managing to show a degree of sympathy.

It’s often acknowledged that many of the members of this group are here because of low self-esteem or childhood trauma and a sense of social exclusion. This leads Margaret (Justine Stafford) to make the important observation of “nobody belongs anywhere, you have to make a space for yourself”.

            The play explores themes of identity on the part of those in the incel community, with a particular focus paid to the conflict between those who became trapped in the their search for community and like-minded souls and those who see it as the fundamental cornerstone of their identity.

Indeed when the possibility of sex is offered to incel-in-chief Crusher (Jackson Ryan), it’s dismissed out of hand as a ploy by Margaret to undermine both him and his identity as an incel. It’s clear he sees women as inferiors to be conquered rather than equals to be embraced. 

            One particularly clever bit of stage direction I enjoyed was the use of physical frames held by the incels which mimic the video windows of the Zoom call they’re participating in. These frames also act as boxes limiting their worldview and keeping them rooted in place.

Margaret meanwhile is free to move about the stage at will, variously antagonising or supporting the other characters as the situation demands. The frames also provide another interesting visual metaphor during Margaret’s climacic conflict with Crusher.

In an effort to take his photo, Margaret shifts her borrowed frame from landscape to portrait and back again, the shifting perspective mirroring Crusher’s changing worldview.

            Overall the play is an immensely clever and nuanced look into the world of incels and definitely worth checking out. It’s playing in the Smock Alley Theatre from 23rd – 27th April.