|Published on Friday, 10 August 2012|
Chances are, at least once per day, someone really annoys you. They jump the queue or walk too slowly when you're trying to get somewhere, or cross against the light just when you'd had a chance to turn. And you silently (or not) seethe and grit your teeth and wish ill upon them. But would you feel the same way if you knew their whole story? Maybe that person isn't an inconsiderate jerk; maybe they're distracted because their dog just died or their mum's in hospital. You don't know, but if you did, it might make you feel or behave differently towards them.
Not knowing – or even wanting to know – the whole story, and the possibly tragic consequences of that, is at the heart of Rainbow, a play that follows the intersecting lives of three disparate characters. There's Martin, a teacher longing to shake up his humdrum life who needlessly punishes an innocent student 'to wake him up'; Tom, a dreamy young man who manages to find beauty in unlikely places; and Russ, a Radio 4-loving thug who beats and occasionally kills people who owe his boss money. Their paths cross (though they don't always realize it) in myriad unexpected and incredibly ugly ways, and only the audience gets the full picture.
That makes for a very uncomfortable viewing experience (and I mean that in the best way). We squirm watching Martin strut about, revelling in what he thinks is his 'sex god' status, because we know what he doesn't: he's no sex god at all, but a sad man unwittingly taking advantage of a vulnerable girl. We cringe, recognizing who the children being beaten in Russ's story are, though he doesn't seem to care. But making us uncomfortable is a good thing, because it makes us think and perhaps question how we'd react in similar situations. Would we ask more questions, or blithely turn away, maintaining our ignorance and accepting what we think is simply our good fortune?
Rainbow assumes its audience is intelligent and willing to think, and I appreciate that. Don't come to this show expecting mindless entertainment; you won't get it. You have to pay attention, because the connections between the characters are rarely explicitly stated. Instead, we rely on small details and subtle clues -- takeaway bags from Tesco, a pot of lip gloss -- to understand who the other people in Tom's, Martin's, and Russ's stories are and how they tie these three men together in tragedy.
The writing, by Emily Jenkins (who is also the show's director and producer) is fantastic. Her vibrant descriptions, beautifully delivered with just the right amount of humour and poignancy by the cast, easily transport the audience to a grotty cafe, a classroom filled with misbehaving students, and a trash-filled field at the edge of town with one spot of beauty: a tree that Tom loves.
Speaking of Tom, Kyle Treslove (the actor who plays him) deserves special accolades, for so wonderfully transmitting the character's innocence, confusion, devastation, and hope. He made it all look easy, but it's not. Tom's almost hyperactive behaviour could have been irritating, and in less capable hands it probably would have been; but he manages to keep it in check just enough, and balance it with pathos and genuine joy. He manages to be both the most uplifting and the most devastating character in the show.
This is not to discount the performances of the other actors. As Martin, James Hender exhibits cringe-inducing middle-aged swagger, tempered by harsh disappointment and, ultimately, redemption of sorts. Oliver Ashworth's Russ is the funniest of the trio, which helps humanize him and raises him above the level of the stock "bad guy assassin" character we're all used to seeing. These are all very human and relatable characters, flawed, but also showing hints of growth and promise.
I'd see Rainbow again, and I don't say that about many plays. I think it's a show that could benefit from repeat viewings, because there's plenty of meat to it, and it can be a lot to digest in one sitting. If I did see it again, I hope to do it in a venue where there isn't something else being staged upstairs, because the noise of people clomping around over our heads was unfortunately distracting at times. Still, it didn't prevent me from falling in love with this show – and when I left and someone took too long counting out change at a shop, I just took a deep breath and tried to be a little more understanding and forgiving.
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FROM OUR ARCHIVES
These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012. We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.