Rattled review at Old Red Lion, London – ‘meaty and unsentimental’
Em is having a terrible night. Rachel Harper’s new monologue, which she also performs in, is a meaty, impressively unsentimental deep dive into one woman’s psyche. Teetering on the edge of a train platform, Em finds a baby, seemingly abandoned by its parents. She begins to talk to it, therapising at it, and what we slowly discover is the story of a profoundly depressed, traumatised, and lonely woman.
Despite its heavy subject, Harper’s play is surprisingly, dryly funny. Her writing is scalpel sharp – with smart, acerbic lines like “He’s the Nokia 3310 of blokes” cutting right to the heart of the unseen characters surrounding her. It’s tightly structured too – lean but detailed, cyclical with every anecdote linking back to Em’s broader, bruised character. If anything, it’s a little too neatly structured for such a complex, messy character, and deserves a little more room to spread itself out.
Harper is a charismatic, chameleonic performer, shifting from character to character seamlessly, (though some of the character sketches do seem slightly unnecessary and overly performative, offering up a broad humour which feels tonally askew in the context of the rest of the piece) and she handles her text deftly, rolling words around in her mouth, showcasing some particularly adroit comic timing. Jemma Gross’ direction is tight and focused, fitting the style of the text, though Harper begins the piece at a point of such high anxiety that the play’s momentum lags inevitably towards its middle.
Thanks to Harper’s clear-eyed writing, it’s an ultimately bleak, if empathetic and astute exploration of one woman’s deteriorating mental state.
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