Reviewed – 4th October 2021
“‘Rainer’ is a show that is as entertaining as it is eye opening. Impossible to ignore”
Who is ‘Rainer’? It’s a good question. Rainer probably isn’t sure of the answer herself. Maybe she doesn’t want the true answer. Initially, we certainly don’t, as she struts and frets on and off the stage. She is the girl for whom you quicken your step as she reels towards you from across the street, showering you with a constant stream of anguished, angular syllables. Or she’s the unhinged untouchable who pins you to the doorway at a party as you’re trying to leave. You think her tirade is coming to its end when the staccato ‘anyway’ steers it into another direction. The acoustics aren’t so good, so you don’t catch a lot of her words. Your attention drifts, returning in unwanted waves. You can smell danger, but it’s an undercurrent. Your impatience is stronger, willing you to walk away. You don’t really care what she has to say – it has turned into background noise.
Sorcha Kennedy is ‘Rainer’, the eponymous character of the one woman show, running as part of the Arcola festival of outdoor art and performance: ‘Today I’m Wiser’. The hard wooden seating and creeping autumnal cold don’t help much. You feel a bit like an eavesdropper to the event.
But then something clicks into place. It is a quite beautiful moment and one of the truest theatrical experiences. You kick yourself for being so indifferent. So ignorant. Kennedy’s ‘Rainer’ is an astonishing portrayal of an invisible character that we see every day. Her depiction is increasingly spellbinding as she unleashes the issues of mental illness that we normally try to avoid. It shakes us up. Yes, we are all guilty of switching off. Of crossing the road to the other side. This play makes us realise we are the problem, and when we realise this, we listen harder, and we are fascinated. And we care. For we now see the multiple layers beneath problems we normally view through squinted eyes.
You will be gripped by this short piece. Kennedy works hard to grab our attention and once she has it, she won’t let go. We follow her solitary journey across London, weaving through the suburbs, the flats, the clubs, and galleries; ricocheting off characters she derides and envies in equal measure. We follow her down the rabbit hole until she reaches lower than rock bottom. Reality slips and it is difficult to differentiate hallucination from fact. “He was never here. Nor was I” she exclaims with a silent question mark, referring to Jack, her lover and saviour. She’s a Scorsese subversive, yet aching to find reason in the shattered looking glass she has climbed through.
Max Wilkinson’s writing is sharp enough to cut Rainer’s wrists, but Nico Pimpare’s dynamic direction pulls the piece back from tragedy and we are ultimately left with an overriding feeling of hope. It has been a thrilling journey, spurred on by Johanna Burnhearts live musical accompaniment. The breakdown becomes a celebration. The unseen becomes seen. This show, intentionally or not, does more for mental health awareness than a month of seminars could achieve. It is illuminating, and essentially it is a confounding performance. Expectations start low, but Kennedy lifts them sky-high. Rainer is a character that refuses to be ignored. She is also out there on our streets, perhaps a less persuasive or noticeable version. But let’s try not to ignore the real Rainer too.
‘Rainer’ is a show that is as entertaining as it is eye opening. Impossible to ignore.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Arcola Theatre until 9th October
Previously reviewed at this venue this year: