RITA LYNN at the The Turbine Theatre
“Nick Bagnall’s staging sharpens the chilling intelligence and intensity of Marwood’s performance, while the attention to detail is extraordinary”
In the semi darkness, Louise Marwood walks back and forth across the stage, the rumble of the trains above the arches resonating like peals of thunder, giving way to the innocent sound of a music box. A nursery rhyme echoes from the walls. A phone rings. A song plays. Then, more silence. The atmosphere is potent.
“You know when you throw something really important away by accident?”. A pause. “I did this with my life”. Immediately we have a taste of the raw honesty, the poignancy and the dark humour of the next hour, as Marwood takes on the persona of Rita Lynn – an accidental life coach. “I tell people how to live… and I’m dying!”. Rita in turn is a pseudonym for Imogen; a spiralling addict who is scraping rock bottom. A failed dance career has left her pockets as empty as her dreams. Heckled by her own thoughts and shackled with a toxic boyfriend, her cocaine fuelled madness leads her to the precipice of suicide. Except “my suicide note was so good, it made me want to live”. The deadpan delivery highlights Marwood’s skill at mixing the absurd with the reality, the laughter with the tears, the self-deprecation with the respect for integrity.
There is no shortage of plays – or films, or books – that portray addiction of one kind or another. What makes Marwood’s writing stand out is the complete lack of victim mentality or self-indulgence. She attacks the material with a deep understanding that permeates her performance. This girl knows what she is talking about. But she doesn’t lecture; she turns her harrowing story of survival into pure anecdotal entertainment.
Imogen, in desperation, attends a job interview for a personal assistant to Helen, a successful architect. Arriving at her home in Hampstead she discovers Helen’s regular therapist hasn’t turned up that day so, on the spur of the moment, passes herself off as the replacement. And so, Rita Lynn is born. The journey that this takes her on is peopled by the colourful, yet tragic, characters that orbit and encourage her chaotic life. Among them, we get to know her best friend, confidant, fellow addict and drag queen, Melian. Her lover Dexter and his four-year-old son Buddy. Although these characters are articulated through pre-recorded voiceovers, it is Marwood’s prose and execution that bring them to life (and in one or two cases, kills them off too).
Nick Bagnall’s staging sharpens the chilling intelligence and intensity of Marwood’s performance, while the attention to detail is extraordinary. Over-sized lines of cocaine mark the various locations on the stage. A plaintive nursery rhyme is occasionally heard, while the opening and closing soundtrack sets the mood with the bluesy strains of New Orleans singer, Irma Thomas, standing by her no-good man. Less successful perhaps are the digressions into pastiche scenarios of American sitcom or vintage TV advertising which, despite being dramatically clever, don’t quite sit with the general flow of the narrative.
As the humour slowly slips back into the silent darkness, we are struck by how close Marwood must be to the character she is portraying on stage. It is a brave undertaking. And it feels unresolved. The lines of cocaine still score the stage, although now smudged and smeared on her clothing. Has she wiped herself clean after all? This is Rita’s story, but the fact that it is also Marwood’s enriches the authenticity and adds vibrance to the comedy and the tragedy. Marwood’s lightness of touch reveals a dark soul. Ultimately this is a story of survival. The applause it earns at curtain call is multi-layered.
RITA LYNN at the The Turbine Theatre
Reviewed on 24th January 2024
by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Nicholas Laborie
Previously reviewed at this venue: