Rattled at the Old Red Lion Theatre: ‘a harrowing but sensational work of art’

Rex Harrison reviews Missmanaged Theatre’s Rattled, a new show by artistic director Rachel Harper.

Rattled is an unsettling and simple piece. Delivered with robust emotional fortitude alone by writer and performer Rachel Harper, Rattled tells the story of childhood suffering permeating through the cracks of adulthood. With themes of abuse and the challenges of mental health, the piece is a harrowing but sensational work of art. 

Harper’s daring performance had all the boldness and conviction of a Mother Courage while holding her audience captive with a delicate and fine-tuned psychic coalescence with this emotionally charged story.  

Structurally the piece had the feel of an avant-garde stand up set descending into an Artaudian sensory nightmare. Her jokes frequently hit the mark but audiences are rarely prepared for what she had in store for us next. 

Rachel Harper in Rattled.

What stood out for me in Harper’s performance was her gift for physically allowing her character(s) to occupy her. Her continuous merging of character and space for me showed the mark of an actor who is totally in control of her story. 

This is perhaps explained by the fact that Harper wrote the story herself. The script was perfectly paced, funny at times, utterly shocking at others and frequently showing 20/20 insight into some staggering social problems. Harper’s critiques on the social issues of women and motherhood hit home in a raw and unforgiving way. 

Directed by Jemma Gross, the piece was simple and cutting. Its bare-bones approach to design meant there was the perfect balance of everything and nothing. Florence Hazard’s set – with a baby carrier, a bench and a security camera – and a craftily integrated sound and lighting arrangement (created by Nicola Chang and Sherry Coenan respectively) gave the performance everything it needed to blossom and charge. 

The soundscape contributed efficiently to the atmosphere of anxiety I felt the show was aiming for. Mostly consisting of disjointed noise and recycled train announcements it was a small but hugely beneficial addition. The sound design in many ways leads to the gradual unravelling of the story, providing insight into the story’s geography as well as the state of Harper’s character’s mind. 

I’m always impressed when companies are shrewd with minimalistic sets. It’s fantastic when shows make do with minimal garnish but it’s even more exciting when it feels as if a show would not have worked as well if weren’t forits small set. Allowing information to be conveyed to the audience gradually by way of sound design left one feeling slightly disoriented but keenly gripped, a sensation which married perfectly with the tone of the whole piece. 

The creative union of these talents is part of a wave of theatre makers striving to make a difference. The piece was by no means simply a gratuitous attack on the senses and trigger warnings and references to appropriate mental health services are tactfully affixed. Moreover, the company, the all-female identifying Mismanaged Theatre, has teamed up with creative childcare agency Bea & Co to provide two hours of free childcare for parents attending a Sunday matinee of the show (that’s one hour for the show, and one hour to mull it all over).   

5/5

Rattled is at the Old Red Lion Theatre until the 2nd of March, 2019.

Production and feature photographs: Ali Wright.


Rex is studying for a BA in English and Drama at Goldsmiths. He is especially interested in new political writing, theatre directing and contemporary French and German theatre.

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