Rattled @Old Red Lion

Rattled by Rachel Harper

The Old Red Lion Theatre in Islington has always been one of my favourite venues. From the atmosphere in the pub, the Norwich City flag draped above the bar, the friendly front of house staff and finally the perfect fringe theatre upstairs are all elements that want to make you return time and time again.

For this trip, I came to see Missmanaged Theatre's debut play 'Rattled' written and performed by Rachel Harper. Now before I start to discuss the play, it has to be noted that Missmanaged Theatre are a truly perfect addition to the industry. A company for female-identify creatives that champion women's rights within the theatre. They have provided free child care for their Sunday morning shows so that parents can enjoy the play child free. And introduced 'wage gap Wednesday' where female identifying audience members can claim a 18.4% discount off their tickets. For a debut production, they're already champions!

Now the play itself begins with Em (Harper) on the edge of a railway platform. Who is she? Why is she there? As Em paces along the platform she realises that someone has left their baby in it's carrier on the platform edge, addressing the aptly placed CCTV camera Em starts to ask 'who's baby is this' and starts to panic, admitting that she doesn't really like babies. This predicament however does lead you in to the narrative of the play, Em is on the edge, she doesn't have anyone to talk to and let out feelings and emotions, and so this silent baby becomes her confidant. Allowing Em to reveal her deepest, darkest thoughts.

The tension built by the opening minutes, and the fact that Em is alone at a railway platform in the early hours of the morning, alerts you that Em's story probably isn't the happiest. Yet Harper has written a masterpiece. Em is funny, her descriptions of people in her life make you roar with laughter, she is always looking for the pun. Harper's understanding of humour and comic timing is highlighted even more as the story continues, a stand out moment for me is when Em's husband rings her, revealing her Kate Bush ringtone. I don't want to spoil anymore for you but lets just say, it is the best Kate Bush impression I have seen on a stage. Harper's physicality is first class, she uses the railway station bench and makes it become her childhood bed, aisle of the church and at one point a racehorse charging down the track. Harper moves with ease and has upmost control of every single delicate movement.

Despite the laughter and the jokes, Em is hurting. She admits she's married the wrong person. An older, slightly overweight, middle class chap named Ian. Who she met in the most luxurious of settings. An Uber pool. Em's brain is slowly crumbling in front of your very eyes, as she begins to remember childhood trauma, her unruly school days, and her unwanted wedding day. It slowly becomes a tale of heartbreak, Em has been left heartbroken by her father as well as by life. She hasn't met anyone who she can pinpoint is 'the one' and feels cheated by the fact life has lead her to her marriage with Ian. Harper's writing with Jemma Gross' direction has you howling with laughter one moment, to being smacked in the chest, and sometimes the eyes with emotion, the next. Harper makes Em relatable, she is your best friend, your sister or your wife. She reveals an internal conflict that many women are probably struggling with and she strips it bare, with no niceties. She makes you leave the theatre, wanting to talk to those in your life you know are struggling, or just check in with your nearest and dearest. 

Overall, a beautifully written, expertly performed, soul destroying monologue.
*****
5 stars

Reviewer: Corey Hennelly


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