Psychogeography and Delivery Riding
Max Wilkinson on his new play Rainer
Rainer is playing at the Arcola Theatre’s New Outside Space from the 1-18th of June, 2022
Max Wilkinson, a playwright from London, has always been fascinated by cities. Growing up in London, he spent most of his twenties cycling or walking across it between jobs to save on bus-fare, developing an encyclopaedic knowledge of its greasy alleys, its ancient walkways, its car parks and depots, its bomb-sites and gardens; and its ghosts.
Now, written in the pandemic when the streets were apocalyptically quiet save for scores of Deliveroo workers, he wrote Rainer, a play about a voyeuristic delivery rider who loves nothing more than to roam the streets and mythologise the city and lives she glimpses through doorways. She claims to love her life but is in fact quietly drowning anonymity and eviction-notices, slipping semi-blissfully into the realm of the unwell and homelessness.
We chatted with Max about how loners, literary works and psychogeography have shaped his play, making it a celebration of the city of London and its inhabitants.
Rainer is a budding writer, what literary works inspired the writing of the play? Why these works in particular?
Oh, so many. Dylan Thomas’ Under Milkwood was an early reference: I wanted a sort of silent character who roamed around the city, describing it and all the micro-stories occurring at once. But I wanted more of a central character.
I always wanted to write a city play, where the city or place is just as important as the protagonist and often, I found, these characters were passionate voyeurs, sort of aggressive loners somehow marginalised to the edges of mainstream culture. They had a far better time drifting through the crowds and peering in, rather than being a part of them. Rainer is like that: she hates and the loves the city as she hates and loves herself and her own anonymity.
I call it the flâneur structure. And you see it pop up and again and again.
Books like Jean Rhys’ Good Morning, Midnight, Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women, Mrs Dalloway, George Elliot’s books: you get this hyper intelligent, hyper-sensitive hero who is fiercely and blissfully independent from society but is hiding a fragility and desperate loneliness. They’re also kind of wrecks. And for all their cynicism and self and outward loathing, they are truly romantics at heart, more in love with place and people then they’d like to believe; but only at a distance.
You see it in films too: Mike Leigh’s Naked, plays like Gary Owen’s wonderful Iphigenia in Splott. Even that film Amelie, although desperately twee, the central character is a kind of flâneur in love with people glimpsed through windows. And through the eyes of that intelligent loner, you get a collidoscopic portrait of the city.
Rainer is a bit like Amelie but on smack.
Can you tell us more about the psychogeographical elements of the play?
So, as well as being an ode to the city, Rainer is also a kind of emotional map of London.
As she travels through the city she is in love with its architecture and places, bombing around from empty depots to leafy climbs of Hampstead. She is a film and book-buff and the play is laced with references to writers and movies that have created the backdrop to Rainer’s life and London in general. But, as her isolation deepens and her mental health worsens, we understand that her own history and ghosts are suffocating her too.
I’ve always loved walking around London and mythologising the city, as Rainer does.
I remember seeing Patrick Keiller’s film London in art school and, like every art student, trying to imitate it with a few, fairly rubbish short films. But then I got into Guy Debord and the Situationists, Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin and the idea of the dérive: to wander, without direct aim, through the city and allowing it to direct you instinctively, creating psychophysical maps that negated a logical and literal understanding of it. This influenced the play and my work in general massively.
Then of course the modern flâneur like Will Self, Ian Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd who, although I’m definitely a fan of, are all middle-aged white men. With Rainer, like Jean Rhys and Lucia Berlin, I wanted to bring back someone who was not a middle-aged white man and put her back into the heart of the action.
And London is especially important for this?
Oh, of course! Although I’m biased, having been born in London, I really don’t think there’s a more fascinating city. The old and rather tired Samuel Johnson quote, ‘tired of London, tired of life’ meant that culturally, London has everything to offer an individual and to be exhausted of it, is to be exhausted generally. But it’s not just that. London is a constant, adrenaline fuelled knot of people and problems, a swirling mix of the past and the future.
Unlike other ancient cities, like Paris or Rome, London was bombed to hell during the war and bomb-sites filled in with council homes, so you have that cheek-and-jowl existence. And then its huge industrial zones, in the east, south and docklands, no longer for industry, now ripped apart and re-built as luxury pads and vegan-burger emporiums.
It’s a city of constant flux and extremes and, hate it love it, or both hate it and love it, it’s always fascinating and moving. And you’re never bored.
Rainer, the play, is a celebration of those extremes and the people living within them, seen and unseen.
I hope you can come and see it.
Rainer is playing at the Arcola Theatre’s New Outside Space from the 1-18th of June, 2022:
And published by Bloomsbury.
Max Wilkinson is an award-winning playwright fascinated with cities and characters trying to navigate an increasingly absurd world. He won the Paris Royal Script Award, Screen to Screen Award and was a finalist for the Nick Darke Award, Theatre Uncut’s Prize for Political Writing and recently, Samuel French’s Off Off-Broadway Award. He’s also had plays produced at The Arcola Theatre, the King’s Head Theatre, Theatre 503, Paines Plough and many others across London. He is currently commissioned to turn his optioned play, Ghost Fruit, into a feature film and his new play Rainer will be performed at the Arcola Theatre for three weeks in June, 2022, published by Methuen
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