'When The Rain Stops Falling' written by Andrew Bovell and directed by Rachel Chant at New Theatre in Newtown, is an ambitious piece of theatre.
The production has many good things going for it; an experienced cast and creative team, an accomplished writer and an emerging director. However these quite substantial boons to the production did not quite live up to their expectations. That being said, I was surprised to find there was no Director’s Note in the program. I went into the production feeling somewhat blind, which isn’t always that unpleasant I suppose.
Bovell’s text is a large, sprawling piece of writing that spans three generations of a family. It negotiates each generation through a fragmented storytelling trope – flicking between short scenes to paint a picture of the greater whole. At first this is pleasantly confusing; we wonder who is who, and eventually work it out through subtle hints, however Bovell and perhaps Chant take it too far. It became obvious, sometimes through lines and sometimes through action, and once obvious it seemed to be continually reiterated as if the audience wasn’t expected to have worked it out. The horse was well and truly dead despite all efforts (see: beatings) to finish the race.
Part of the way in which these relationships between characters in different timelines were made was through the use of repetition. Phrases and ideas were repeated, sometimes word for word between scenes that take place 20 years apart. While a quaint and sometimes amusing piece of writing, this too was drastically overused. It ended up turning from somewhat amusing to terribly cringe-y and seemed to continue the whole way through the two hour piece. I’d like to mention that there was no need for Bovell to rely so heavily upon such a writing device. His dialogue is interesting, his themes bold, and the monologue at the commencement of the performance showcases his talent for text. His text is at times light and hopeful, and at other times disturbingly dark and sad.
However, Chant’s interaction with such subject matter was confused, as if she didn’t really want to put on a show that deals with paedophilia in the first place but realised towards the end that it’s probably important. Paedophilia ends up being a convenient means to an end attached onto the home slope of the production. The topic’s inherent darkness felt like it sat completely outside of the world of the play, despite being so intrinsically connected to it – It’s the root cause of all the damage in the production. I think it’s kind of an odd thing to think about dramaturgically, and a difficult hurdle to jump certainly, however I don’t believe Chant or the creative team truly made the jump unfortunately. Perhaps I wouldn’t have noticed as much had the performance not run for what felt like a Lord of the Rings marathon. I think by the clock it was two, but it definitely feels longer. This could have been avoided through snappier transitions I think. There were a lot of pauses, watching stage hands move tables into position.
The set, designed by Tom Bannerman, was impressive, given the size of the space. A broad rake rises to the back wall, covered in a loosely bunched fabric, while an alternate ‘rake’ is suspended from the roof above it. This ceiling rake could change its angle through the use of a motor which raised and lowered its upstage side. What results is a clever trick of the eye, making the set appear to be longer than it is, and we the audience are looking off into the horizon, either over the ocean or across the desert. There are moments in the performance where this is used to great effect; the lighting shifts and the landscape changes dramatically. Where it felt tacky is mostly in the fabric. The entire floor was covered in a red sheet which not only seemed an uncomfortable surface to act on, also made moving chairs and tables across the space difficult.
There were problems with the lighting as a result of the hanging set piece, as the majority of the performance had to be side lit from booms. The production encountered problems with this, as often members of the cast were unable to find their light, or were often obscured by other performers. Truthfully there wasn’t much Benjamin Brockman, the Lighting Designer, could have done with these issues given the nature of the set. All things aside, however, the lights interaction with the set was at times beautiful and both Tom and Benjamin are to be commended for their efforts.
The acting across the board was quite refreshing, however it felt like many of the more experienced performers rested a little on the laurels. It was the younger performers, Renae Small (Gabrielle York) and Tom Conroy (Gabriel Law/Andrew Price) that really stood out in this performance. They developed a really nice chemistry together and listened well to each other. They were believable performances if perhaps a little nervous.
Additional mentions go to David Woodland (Gabriel York/Henry Law). His opening monologue was impeccably performed and gave the show the momentum it needed to get through into the second half. Hailey Mcqueen (Elizabeth Law) dealt with the realisation and horror at discovering her partner’s affinity for children superbly and Peter Mcallum’s (Joe Ryan) patience and tortured love for his slowly declining wife was moving.
When The Rain Stops Falling runs Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays with the final production on the 18th of April. There is no performance on Good Friday, 3rd of April.