In a basement in Soho, London, I’m drawing my rage on to a big sheet of paper with a black marker pen. Scribbles, jagged lines, words (not nice ones) quickly fill the space – and around me 15 other strangers are doing the same. I’m surprised to find I’m feeling angry but having fun. It’s the strangest thing I’ve done for a while. Welcome to Rage Club – a new night launched at House of Togetherness as a place to explore anger and witness the ire of others.
In our angsty world, perhaps it’s not surprising that venues for letting off steam are popping up across the globe. In New York, the Wrecking Club opened in 2017 and the Rage Cage followed last August. On this side of the Atlantic, there’s the Wreck Room in London, and several more venues around the country, including one that just opened in Norwich. Participants wear protective gear and smash up printers, TVs, crockery and the like with sledgehammers, to loud soundtracks.
But the event I’m attending – run by Richard Watkins, founder of Let’s Go, a teamwork consultancy firm – is different. We won’t be smashing anything up and it’s a supported group activity over a couple of hours, rather than a short outburst, though he’s clear it’s a game and not therapy.
Richard begins by assuring us that rage is normal; it will come out and it can be empowering. “People are ashamed of anger, but the intense rush of emotion is a normal part of human life. If we pay attention, it might tell us something important about what we want to change.”
The idea came from Path of Love, a week-long personal growth retreat that includes working through anger. “I experienced rage as something positive for the first time,” he says.
In the room there are more women than men, ranging in age from mid-20s to 50s. We break into groups to discuss what triggers our rage and how we can and can’t express it. Some say they suppress anger and turn it in on themselves; others can’t connect to it and are unable to set boundaries; some live with rage near the surface.
We’re led through exercises to connect us to our innate anger – acting out temper tantrums and tapping into emotions. Then comes the fun. With our drawings on the wall, we bash the walls with cushions and shout and stamp our frustration out while the DJ plays rousing music. We’re in pairs, and being witnessed becoming angry is an integral part of the process. It feels silly at first, but soon I’m smashing and roaring with the best of them. I realise that beneath what I thought I was angry about (a situation with an ex) lies something from longer ago, and that anger is layered with sadness and fear. “All these emotions are connected,” says Richard, “ let them come.”
The catharsis myth theory holds that acting out anger just exacerbates it. But in this setting there is plenty of time after raging to dance, rest or chat (and a follow-up email advises on integrating the experience). We end with a meditation before we’re invited to share our experiences.
Everyone has something positive to say. For some it’s the first time they have felt safe to express anger; others say it has shifted feelings of resentment. In a two-and-a-half-hour session the world isn’t going to change, of course. But I leave feeling lighter – and don’t punch anyone on the journey home.
The next Rage Club is on 21 May and costs £15, togetherness.com