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Sunday 4 November 2012

Sydney Independent Theatre Company's 'When the Rain Stops Falling', dissected by me

It's a bold move to tackle an Andrew Bovell play, especially 'When the Rain Stops Falling'- it's a journey through generations, time and locations, all often overlapping with each other,  out of sequence, all in the confines of the stage. Sometimes the audience need to work hard to put the pieces together but for the most part, Bovell respects his audience to keep up and once you've worked out the conventions being employed early on, it really is clear.

Bovell would be one of my favourite Australian playwrights. There's a sophistication in his understanding of people, their failings and strengths, their relationships as well as a theatrical mastery in which to express these ideas. He knows how to extrapolate sympathy and disgust for characters at the same time, beautifully manipulates inner voices and asides into monologues and dialogue whilst dancing between dramatic forms, styles, symbols and capitalising on theatre's technical elements to enhance mood, space and motifs.

But his plays demand a lot from actor and director. These are not archetypes. They are three-dimensional characters, all with their own stories to tell. There needs to be a subtlety that expresses history, present and future, a depth in every minor choice and often a casualness to big actions. Boy, that's a big ask. So you can imagine for Sydney Independent Theatre Company (SITCO), the text was sometimes bigger than they could manage. But Bovell spent an extensive period developing this text with its original cast, a live musician and a design team. Not many companies get that luxury and so I can't be too hard on SITCO for falling short of the original.

Here are a few commendable things I can say about SITCO's production:

On a very small budget they have created an imaginative set to showcase the intricacies of space and function, especially in creating the effect of rain. Well done to designer David Jeffrey in defying the impossible in the company's small factory performance space in Alice St, Newtown.

Actress Christina Falsone (as the younger Elizabeth Law) was the stand-out performer in this play in accent, character and belief. I was very impressed with her ability to grapple with this complex material with integrity and focus.

The cast also gave the play lots of energy and guts in trying to realise its 'weight'. They really did try to deliver Bovell's play, the best way they could.

There are times the play shows a little too much 'acting', standing in their well-rehearsed or blocked cues, looking out to the rain and feeling forced. Sometimes the accents took over the dialogue and the words became secondary to the accent and therefore detracting from the text. And the piano refrain on loop was driving me slightly insane by the end.

I think the text was an ambitious choice for director Julie Baz and cast but there were times they really delivered some moving moments of tension and emotion amongst other times when it fell just a bit flat.

But I am appreciative and respectful of the drive and passion to create theatre for audiences and set up shop in your own space with an ensemble whose love for performing is obvious. It is a space to hone your craft, tackle big ticket items and grow in skill and repertoire. SITCO is a group that I hope will continue to develop in their expression of plays and maybe, when the ensemble is more confident, they might even dabble in devised work. Certainly I suggest they start showcasing the talents of their more proficient cast members by developing or finding material that allows them to shine.

Keep working at it guys and good luck.

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