Golden Goose Theatre, London – until 28 August 2021
Life is overwhelming for 18-year-old Charlie. When she’s transferred from a youth facility to an adult mental health unit on her 18th birthday, chaos looms large around her.
This includes the imaginary rat which plagued her childhood and has now returned, holding a mirror to her emotional state. When Charlie’s confused, the rat starts dancing vigorously to Baccarat’s, Yes Sir I Can Boogie. At one point she brings in light-up trainers and the two dance together to seventies disco tracks.
Charlie’s real world isn’t that conventional either. An older inmate – who is either Kim or Mary, we’re never sure which – wanders in half-dressed, installing herself on the bed. She is, she claims, a channel to the spirit world – a world she’s keen that Charlie should join.
Then there’s the teenager’s designated care-worker. Jenny is just 23. Newly qualified, she is ill-equipped to manage complexity, relying on box-ticking to make medical decisions. Meanwhile, Charlie’s mum is herself having a bit of a breakdown. Mental illness is no fun.
The portents aren’t good in A Rat, A Rat, yet this lively short play by Chloe Yates finds humour and possibility in every exchange. It’s a tense and funny watch across 100 minutes.
Rose Reade’s Charlie is the beating heart of the show. Confused, angry, vulnerable, young, she struggles to read herself let alone a room of adults.
A Rat, A Rat is challenging and entertaining: are adult mental health units appropriate for older teenagers? The issue is reinforced by Georgia Leanne Harris’ deft direction, filling the small stage at the Golden Goose with tall and imposing supporting actors who close in like walls on awkward Charlie.
Entering uninvited they forcibly plant themselves in her space, underscoring her lack of agency. Lou Kendon-Ross as Kim/Mary is eerily destabilising. Andrea Johannes as smiling care-worker Jenny is good-hearted, but ill-equipped for big decisions. Fiona Tong as Charlie’s mother is a combination of impatience, practicality, and deep tiredness. Mariana Nunes’ rat is a floor-show in itself. This can get in the way of the action while also leavening it, but maybe that’s how imaginary familiars work?
A really interesting watch.