Rainer at Arcola Theatre
Fusing together various genres and moods, Max Wilkinson’s Rainer never comes to rest. At one point we’re watching the character of Rainer – portrayed powerfully by Sorcha Kennedy – whizzing from one place to the next in her job as a delivery driver; the next moment she’s speaking to her therapist; suddenly we find ourselves standing on a bridge as she considers committing suicide.
At its best, Wilkinson’s one-hander is a wonderful paean to London in all its forms and colours. Rainer is also a writer, and the play’s strongest moments occur when she contemplates the “beautiful people” who occupy London, as she gathers material for her exploration of the majestic city with all its muck and water, from the dog ends in the street to the neon lights in Soho.
But in between those few quiet moments there’s always a lot else going on in the 80-minute runtime. Kennedy barely gets a moment to catch her breath, and this can occasionally feel a bit all over the place – especially in the first half, which goes beyond a sense of restlessness and into the realm of lacking focus.
The second half is less chaotic, and it is here that the piece radiates with its more accomplished writing. Rainer’s descent into the abyss comes in the form of her losing her job, suffering an eviction, and struggling with her mental health – and her nadir is depicted powerfully on stage. Director Nico Rao Pimaré, who otherwise always keeps her moving, manages to zone in on this moment and creates a bit of strong theatre.
But at the ending, it tends to go off-track again. Yes, everything ends up neat and tidy – perhaps too neat and tidy – but it also leaves the audience wondering what the actual point to it all was. Aside from the celebration of London and its problems, it’s also about the struggles of writing, mental health, suicide, poverty, the snobbery of gatekeepers in the world of art versus the struggling artist, and more – quite a handful for a one-hander!
Nevertheless, Rainer does shine in the moments that matter most. Thanks to an impressive performance by Kennedy, the few breathing rooms between the restless escapades do provide musings well worth listening to, rendering this an illuminating play.
Rainer is at Arcola Theatre from 1st June until 18th June 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.