This note opened the programme of 'The Rink' by Terrence McNally, John Kander and Fred Ebb. The piece played at London's Southwark Playhouse in May and June 2018
’It’s not junk, I’m telling you. It’s our lives.’
We’ve all had to pack up a room or leave a house. We’ve cleared out drawers, cupboards and boxes; and we’ve seen how each possession can transport us back in time to the moment we bought it, were given it, or found it. Each object connects us to people and events and it’s this collision between objects, memory and space that creates our idea of ‘home’.
The Rink is about two women and what ‘home’ means to them. Anna, a stoic matriarch, has stood her ground against the many unexpected circumstances that have been thrown her way and has risen above the unreliable people who have passed through her life. Her daughter Angel meanwhile has tried to forge her own identity, distinct from her mother’s. But after seven years away from the family roller rink, something pulls Angel back and this is what instigates a show about the impossibility of family and the way we must all - to an extent - live within the limitations of our parents’ shadows.
The Rink also speaks of a changing world. It tells the story of an America where independent businesses struggle to survive the onrush of globalisation. It highlights how an insatiable need to justify the present and forgive ourselves the past leads us to build buildings on top of our past glories. It speaks of our obsession with the new and how it can sometimes lead us to forget our shared history.
Like Anna and Angel, we have all been forced to sift through the memories of our lives and decide what to keep and what to let go. We have all felt the past flowing alongside us as we pass through the world: someone had their first kiss on that bench, someone cried on those steps, their first dance was to that song, they played that at her funeral.
Kander, Ebb and McNally know that the past and present are close relations; that our past glories are only as resonant as our present failures; that the glow of every coloured light will one day fade.
The Rink of the title is also the space in which the whole show takes place. It is a room where so many possible histories converge. People skated and danced and laughed and argued and loved and left and cried. It represents the best of times and the worst of times. Perhaps none of us live in a roller rink, but we all occupy rooms like that.
In her recent graphic memoir Imagine Wanting Only This, Kristen Radtke writes:
‘There are things we know about the lives we make. I painted this room, I bought this table, I washed these sheets and made this bed. We forget that everything will become no longer ours. War comes, or quakes or wind or water; industry leaves. It doesn’t matter that your feet are touching the ground they’re touching now. The floors will rot, the carpet will be torn out, the cement will crack and shift and be pulled from the earth, the dirt will be tilled and changed and rained away and someday there will be nothing left that you have touched.’
We all have to deal with the fact that there will be a future beyond us, but that doesn’t mean we should stubbornly cling to the past. The Rinkshows us that like moments, like theatre, our lives are ephemeral. The best we can do is to enjoy them while we can, make memories with the people we love and not cling onto anything too tightly.