When the Rain Stops falling – New Theatre and the exquisite tragedy. (Theatre Review)
When The Rain Stops Falling
New Theatre 17 March to 18 April
Image credits Bob Seary
In When The Rain Stops Falling, Andrew Bovell crafts such interesting characters, that he can give them relatively obtuse things to say in a theatrical structure that works against its own narrative trajectory and still leave the audience glued to every next word falling out of the actors mouths. He is frustratingly minimalist when we want him to expand, cleverly cutting his characters off just as they get interesting or we get involved in their lives. He gives nothing away, instead weaving his text with poetic observations that reverberate throughout his work that in this case span generations and decades, to give a sense of a deeply personal experience that is equally universal. These are nifty tricks and serve to create an immersive theatre viewing experience despite the work having a distinctly filmic quality and the audience being held at arm’s length with an unspoken request to just watch and be swept away. This is rich, deep theatre that seduces emotionally and leaves the audience panting for more.
In many ways, and again I make that film connection, Bovell is a better editor than writer, in that his structural crafting is where the potent weight of the text collects its meanings. He doesn’t work off message, rather he seeks to examine his very interesting characters, placing them next to each other, cutting them off, now making them old, now introducing someone new as an observer, making no judgement, preferring rather to connect them through coincidence and event. He’s been criticised (particularly in the reviews for Lantana) for relying too heavily on coincidence, but when you consider the impact coincidence has on our lives and the fact that it occurs far more than we realise (consider the birthday problem where the probability of two individuals sharing a birthday in a group as small as 23 is over 50%) it’s a wonder it isn’t used more as a narrative device. If Bovell does ask us to consider anything in When The Rain Stops Falling, it is our relationship to all the things around us and the certainty of impact all our behaviours carry.
This production at The New Theatre directed by Rachel Chant brings the full potency of this beautifully written play so that it is the perfect opportunity to go and see it. The play is long, over two hours without an interval (fastest two hours of your life) so the challenge to the cast who move on and off the stage in a permanent tidal flow is immense, but they are all up to it, powerfully retaining each characters presence through the various vignettes that regularly involve all the cast. This is very much an actors play, with all the cast taking full advantage of the circuitous plotting to display their many delicate talents. However, a standout performance from David Woodland holds the play together. He grasps our hearts at the very start as a man in the rain with a fish in his hands about to meet his estranged son for the first time, and he holds us close, even when we squirm to get away, as he embodies our greatest fears and becomes a monster to us. His performance brought tears to my eyes several times, no small feat given the sensitive material he projects and without giving any spoilers, makes us feel when we’d rather just hate. I’ll never forget his shaking hands at one of the plays crucial climaxes.
If Woodland makes us care about what we’d rather hate, Helen Tonkin manages to melt an ice queen with her character, a woman we come to love (its tricky talking performance when you don’t want to give spoilers) simply because of the hopelessness of her situation. She supports Hailey McQueen who plays one of the most complicated female characters ever written with great delicacy and wit as she both manages and mismanages an impossibly difficult situation. Likewise Olivia Brown allows her character to open up slowly and delicately as we peer into her psyche to find a woman closed off all along. Renae Small is lovely as the damaged star-crossed lover Gabrielle who falls in love with the young Gabriel played by Tom Conroy. The two young people carry the weight of their roles consistently well against the very talented, very experienced cast behind them. Both Conroy and Small almost appear to be angels, at times. This exciting cast is rounded out by the consistently wonderful Peter McAllum, who carries the audience in his pocket, acting as a linchpin of sorts to this intertwined group of strange, tragic souls.
A review of this play would not be complete without special mention of Tom Bannerman and Martelle Hunt’s exciting, simple set combined with the always talented Ben Brockman’s exquisite lighting. The Bannerman/Martelle set gives the impression of a universe, even able to act as Ayres Rock in a crucial scene, just as Brockman lights the night sky with stars. The trio appear to have had a wonderful time working together, as there is a charismatic connection that gives the staging a character all of its own. Nate Edmondson creates beautiful sound design cleverly using the sounds of rain here to inspire both the peace of natures cleanse and the ominous fear of drowning in emotional intensity. Rachel Chant has done a wonderful job bringing all these parts together as a cohesive whole making When The Rain Stops Falling a powerful moment of theatre for all involved.