Writing from his own first-hand experiences in service and delivery jobs, Max Wilkinson wrote Rainer during lockdown in 2020 when the streets were apocalyptically quiet.
The production opens the new summer season for the Arcola’s acclaimed Arcola Outside space, after being developed through their Today I’m Wiser Festival in 2021.
Max is an award-winning script writer, fascinated with the blurred line between performance and theatre and characters navigating an increasingly absurd world. He has won the Screen to Screen Award, the Prix Royal and was a finalist for the Nick Darke Award, Theatre Uncut’s Prize for Political Writing and recently, Samuel French’s Off Broadway Award.
Rainer is at Arcola Outside 1st – 18th June 2022.
Rainer is returning to Arcola Outside, what can you tell us about the play?
So, Rainer is about a delivery rider who rides around London each night, observing characters and lives through the doorway. She’s a kind of passionate loner/flaneur who’s fascinated with people and mythologising the city but terrified of letting anyone in.
She’s also a budding writer and, as she delivers, invisible to everyone around her, she secretly documents the people and things she encounters. She also builds relationships with some of the people she delivers too and she’s naturally quite caring too. But she’s desperately lonely too and sort of drowning in her own isolation which is the conflict of the piece. But it’s also from a genuine love of London and all the characters you meet.
Basically, it’s a bit like that film Amelie but on smack.
What inspired you to write it?
I’ve always wanted to make a ‘City Play’ or film, where the city and its residents are as important as the central character. Things like Dylan Thomas’s Under Milkwood, Goodbye to Berlin, Virginia Woolf, stuff like that. But also with this fierce but lonely, sort of wandering poet at the centre of it.
Films like Mike Leigh’s Naked and Jean Rhys’s writings. A lonely romantic who is desperate for connection, secretly but hides behind misanthropy.
I spent a lot of my twenties, like Rainer, riding constantly around London at night between service and other jobs and you can’t help day dream and mythologise the city just from boredom.
Also, the play was inspired and written last year during the first lockdown in London, where the streets were apocalyptically empty, save for hundreds of delivery workers riding back and forth across the city.
I think it was the moment when these invisible people became more visible and ‘unskilled’ or ‘service’ workers became ‘skilled’ or vital workers. The play is about that too: looking at this new class of workers and appreciating their importance.
Do you think you could have written this play without experiencing life in the service industry for yourself?
No, I don’t think so. I think most people have worked briefly in the service industry, especially as it’s such a booming part of our economy now but, like Rainer, I worked so many different jobs over the years, including delivery work, and you meet so many different people and have this great opportunity to spy on people and infiltrate lives whilst being quite invisible: perfect for a budding writer!
I did crewing work, delivery, catering; building, decorating, tutoring/glorified nannying and furiously writing in any spare time I had whilst riding around between jobs; mostly at weird hours of the night. That transient lifestyle is very absorbing, sort of addictive but also very disheartening as your identity is in constant flux and ultimately ignored.
Rainer premiered last year, why did you want to bring it back and has anything changed since its last run?
The Arcola have just built this brilliant new Outside space as a reaction to the pandemic and when we first ran Rainer there last year it was beautiful lucky accident: the space is huge and partly open to the elements so you hear London constantly and this became a perfect backdrop to Sorcha, playing Rainer, as she ran around the big wide-open space. So, when the show was received really well last year and the Arcola asked us to do a longer, three-week run, we were really thrilled to accept.
We have a new music score and a light show to really elevate the show even further but, with the same brilliant performer and director and the script mostly unchanged, the play remains mostly the same; we’re just thrilled to show it now for longer.
What have you enjoyed most about working with performer Sorcha Kennedy and director, Nico Rao Pimparé?
So, Sorcha and I knew each other quite a few years back when she was in one of the first plays I wrote about Berlin and ex-pats living there. She’s a joy to work with and when I was writing Rainer and randomly bumped into her, I started to imagine her up there on the stage, strutting about and barking at people. I knew she’d suit the role well! She’s a tough performer with a lot of sardonic wit but there’s also a lot of warmth there and poetry too: which is Rainer, really.
I’ve been working with Nico for a year or so now and it’s a similarly a joy to work with him: he really gets the nuances of the text and is excellent at getting out all those characters Sorcha plays and bringing them to the stage without monotony. We all work together really well and it’s always been a joy.
What would you say to anyone thinking of coming to see Rainer?
Sorcha, who plays Rainer, had a great answer to this which I think sums things up well.
Big ole slap in the face. No. I think… and I hope. Really truly in a very simple way. That our audiences get on the tube on the way home. Or walk routes that they’ve always known and just noticed something different, something different that they haven’t noticed before. Notice people they don’t look at, or acknowledge or think about the inner-lives of these people. I think that’s what I hope for. And what I’ve done in preparation for Rainer. And I think you can’t help but do that. Cos I think if you have that moment of realising that everyone, even invisible delivery people, have that inner-life and hopes and dreams and desires just like everyone else on this planet, I think that’s where empathy will grow.