People sometimes ask writers if there is anything they wouldn’t write about. If there are topics that are too sensitive, too raw or too personal to be a subject. Most writers will tell you that nothing is out of bounds, but we all know that the more important and painful the subject is the better the writing needs to be to carry it off.
Rainbows & Razorblades is a very personal true story, written and performed by Chelley McLear, about being a single mother struggling to bring up two teenage children, and particularly about her daughter’s struggle with mental health and suicide. It is a story told so honestly and intimately by McLear that you can’t help but be moved to tears; but there is also laughter, and at its core a deep recognition and acceptance of the flaws and failings that make us all human.
The story is told through poetry, song, music and images. The staging is minimal, serving to focus all of the attention on the carefully chosen, carefully delivered, spare but immensely powerful words. Parents will identify instantly with McLear’s feelings of inadequacy, comparing herself to other mothers and her feelings of loss, helplessness and responsibility in the face of such anguish and hurt in her child. But the main thing you take away from this performance is the sheer strength and perseverance of a mother and a genuine feeling of hope for a better future.
Should this story be the subject of poetry and drama? Of course it should, but it takes a real lightness of touch and a skilled writer to do it well, and fortunately McLear has all of those skills. It is also an important story to tell – too often the mental health struggles of teenagers and indeed adults facing depression and suicide are hidden away or treated as taboo subjects. Talking about them, sharing experiences and understanding is the only thing ultimately that can help.
This is an incredible, beautifully crafted, moving show. Not an easy watch, not comfortable, but vital in every meaning of that word.
Chelley McLear’s “Rainbows and Razorblades” was developed through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s Artist Career Enhancement Scheme with mentors Tony Walsh (Longfella) and Candy Simmons (Sunset Gun Productions).