Rainer by Max Wilkinson – ‘masterful’

★★★★

The Arcola’s Outside space, a wonderful wooden-clad hut off a side street in Dalston, boasts an intriguingly bare stage. As the audience trickles in, I wonder how the show will begin. My question is answered with wonderful immediacy when performer Sorcha Kennedy excitedly bounds into the makeshift auditorium, energised and charged, as she continues to be throughout this impressive seventy-minute monologue.

Kennedy plays our guide for the evening, Rainer, who is here to tell us a story, of many things, it seems, but most of her anecdotes centre around a turbulent spell working as a delivery driver in London. There is no projection, set features or other visual aids to place the piece geographically; instead, Kennedy paints the scene with her words – words so skilfully written and precisely placed by Max Wilkinson’s masterful script. This is a show rooted in the UK capital, both in terms of its encyclopedic knowledge of literal places and its subtle commentary on and observations of London’s varied and often troubling culture. ‘This is London – when it’s good, it’s great’, proclaims Rainer at one particular juncture, and this seems to be a running belief throughout the show. Perhaps inevitably, the play touches on some incredibly serious aspects too, some of which could perhaps benefit from more specific content warnings, but these are nonetheless dealt with through admirable accuracy and sincerity. The piece, despite beginning in a gleeful and witty tone, ultimately reaches its conclusion through exploring subjects that are decidedly laugh-free, which contrast greatly from the opening (in which Kennedy announces that everyone is locked in for the whole show, and is welcome unless they’re ‘a racist’). The balancing of these two moods is at a perfect equilibrium, and neither feels out of tune with the central character.

Kennedy’s ability as a performer simply has to be commended. Her incredible physical and vocal ability, not only as Rainer but also as every other person she comes into contact with in the story, switching entire postures and accents in the blink of an eye, makes her the ideal storyteller for this complex monologue. The direction, from Nico Pimpare, is incredibly assured, clearly having worked closely with Kennedy to create this fascinating protagonist with immense detail and respect. The piece has some lovely music, too, from composer Johanna Burnheart (the live violin was a particular treat).

It is easy to get lost in this piece, largely due to the expertise of Wilkinson’s storytelling, but as Rainer says at the conclusion ‘This play doesn’t really have a message’, and I quite like it that way. Perhaps that’s my taste in theatre talking, but arguably some of the strongest monologues are those that weave a story together without seeming to try. They are more akin to an engaging and detailed conversation with a good friend, or an unprompted and slightly unnerving speech from a talkative stranger you only met five minutes ago. They only appear to be absent of a message on the surface – below this, there is an incredible amount to unpack. This play certainly feels like a monologue of such quality, and, despite having some parts that could benefit from further edits or deeper exploration, the writing stays beautifully afloat.

Rainer is also a perfect piece for this exterior venue. At times I felt like the natural sounds of passing ambulances, or bikes, were too perfectly timed to not be intentional sound design, but maybe that’s just the magic of it. Because, in Rainer, something does sparkle.

-Toby Moran Mylett

Rainer ran from 4th-9th October 2021 at The Arcola Outside space.

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