I do not envy any new one-woman plays exploring the millennial/ Gen Z struggle. Don’t get me wrong, this is a totally legitimate subject and form: squeezing into the uncomfortable crevices of modern life, displaying the humour in discomfort and the crushing misery at which we’ve become so used to laughing. The problem is Phoebe Waller-Bridge sort of ruined it for everyone else. Fleabag looms so large in its genre that its shadow subsumes anything remotely similar.
Rainer’s opening gambit, a self-deprecating, ‘even if this is rubbish you’ve already paid, plus we’ve locked the doors’ immediately smacks of Waller-Bridge’s combination of balls-out confidence and withering self-doubt. Which is to say, I like it. And though it might be an easy comparison to make, writer Max Wilkinson has definitely imparted his own flavour to the subject, refracting rather than reflecting those who have come before him.
Rainer (Sorcha Kennedy), a twenty-something writer, cycles all over London as a delivery driver, soaking up the city. Nosing gleefully into the lives of her customers, she passes off her uniform as ‘service chic’ at a sandwich eater’s boujee fashion party, toys with an invite for a threesome from a couple of dim sum orderers, listens to old jazz records and shares a pie with a lonely old man. But while she appears to be squeezing every ounce of joy out of life, she’s also concerningly forgetful, doesn’t seem to be taking her medication and hasn’t paid her rent in over two months. Oh yeh, and she thinks a ghost in a trench coat is stalking her.
Kennedy makes me feel so old, regularly running round the whole auditorium and playing maybe twenty characters with equal flair and razor-sharp comic timing. The audience seems reluctant to crane their necks the 180 degrees it would require to follow her around, so her voice is regularly disembodied, floating somewhere behind us. I’m not sure how effective this is versus how annoying. And, just to really drive the point home that at 32 I act like a giant wrinkle, I do wish she was a bit louder. The semi-outdoor space- a roof covering to keep us dry, and partial walls to keep us cold (and hopefully Covid-free!)- is ideal, allowing the sounds of the city to contribute to Rainer’s love-hate relationship with London. But it does mean we sometimes have to focus to hear her, and occasionally lose her entirely to a whining siren or a group of rowdy passersby.
In the first forty minutes, Rainer’s mania is totally conflatable with an enviable amount of joie de vivre. Even though most every anecdote is tinged with disquiet, it’s a bounding ascent, and the audience is right behind her; as her now-deceased dad once told her, “You’ve got to go all the way, you’ve got to keep going.”
In the second half, it’s clear she’s spiralling, that she’s taken these sage words too literally and is staggering forward, in lieu of reflecting on her undisclosed trauma. But whilst Wilkinson’s script is successful in showing a chaotic descent, he’s struggled a bit with clarity, or rather the muddle and confusion goes on a bit too long. And when we do finally break free of the mania and come up for air, it’s so sudden and Dorothyesque- Rainer wakes, surrounded by all her loved ones, with a book deal and a new boyfriend- that it feels like another manic episode, which I’m pretty sure it’s not supposed to.
I do wonder that perhaps this is down to a lack of final editing. On the one hand, the script might’ve ended up being ten or fifteen minutes shorter. But on the other, it feels incredibly urgent and of the moment, and that might have been lost had Wilkinson sat on it for a few more months, carefully sieving through for possible edits. So I guess what I’m saying is, yes, it’s ten minutes too long, but it’s also just right.
Rainer is on at Arcola Outside until Saturday 9th October 2021. More info and tickets HERE.