A Sunny Outlook: Review of New Theatre’s When the Rain Stops Falling
Andrew Bovell’s When the Rain Stops Falling (2008) is a quintessentially Australian piece, and maybe one of the finest local plays to come out of the country in recent times.
Set across four different timelines, Bovell’s play takes a little work on the part of the audience to keep up, unravel the plot and discern how each character relates to the other (a task made more difficult by the fact that two characters are called Gabriel and another called Gabrielle). At no point though, does Bovell talk down to the audience, so it is well worth the effort to piece together this story.
When the Rain Stops Falling is quite a somber play in many regards; it acts as an examination of how the past can stretch across not only a whole life-time, but different generations, to influence and direct a life – even if that past is not fully comprehended. In the present day Gabriel, a quietly spoken English man, is on a pilgrimage to Australia to retrace the steps of his father. When he was just seven his father, Henry, mysteriously left the family and from that day Gabriel received only sporadic and enigmatic postcards from him, some describing his vision of how the world would end. During Gabriel’s travels he encounters Gabrielle, a young woman working in a road house, and they start a tentative relationship. Slowly we come to learn what drove his father away, and it is a past that has been the defining factor in all of the character’s lives, including Gabrielle. Importantly though, what we come to learn is that we don’t have to be bound by the mistakes of the past. Even if poorly understood, it is possible to break the cycle of former generations, and Bovell portrays this in a touching and cathartic final scene, where the ghosts of the past are finally put to rest.
The ensemble of When the Rain Stops Falling worked beautifully together. David Woodland leads the charge as Henry Law, the father of Gabriel Law. Woodland has always been a solid presence on stage, and here he is no different. In particular, there are some difficult emotional reveals for Henry, all of which Woodland tackles fearlessly. As an adult Gabriel York, Woodland gives a memorable monologue at the beginning of the piece, solidly setting the somber tone and pace of the piece. Playing opposite Woodland is Hailey McQueen as the young Elizabeth (his wife). McQueen shows us a strong woman with wonderful gravitas and maps her slow descent into alcoholism. She leaves us with a catatonic shadow, cleverly mirrored by Helen Tonkin (as the older version of Elizabeth). Both women are well cast and careful staging makes for a powerful timeline of lost hope.
As Gabriel Law (the son of Henry and Elizabeth), Tom Conroy provides us with the simple charm of the English. Conroy draws great complexity from this character, avoiding cliché and overacting. Conroy also shows us his diversity when playing the adult son of Gabriel York, morphing seamlessly into a thoroughly modern and neutral teenager. Playing opposite Conroy (Gabriel) as the love interest Gabrielle was Renae Small. Small was one of the more interesting on stage, simply because she found a pace of character that was completely unique. It is best described as the tired jolt of an ocker sound coupled with the uncertain stutter of a young adult – and Small owned this characterisation from start to finish. As the aged Gabrielle, Olivia Brown was endearing, managing to pull the heart strings of all who have a demented elder. As her later ‘life partner’, Peter McAllum played Joe with wonderful stability. We felt for his struggles, both as a man searching for unrequited love and as a carer with a thankless task.
Ultimately the piece is clearly intentioned and well polished – a credit to director Rachel Chant. It is also worth mentioning the high production quality provided by Tom Bannerman (set design), Benjamin Brockman (lighting design) and Nate Edmonson (sound design). The set is beautiful, blue and dynamic with a raked ceiling and raised platform, set against a red desert floor. It is extremely evocative whilst remaining unimposing and complimentary to the story.
Be prepared to do a little work when you come to see this play. But don’t let that put you off, this is one of most beautifully written, and finely performed pieces of independent theatre that you may well see this year. Not to be missed. When the Rain Stops Falling is playing at the New Theatre until the 18th of April. For more information see: http://newtheatre.org.au/when-the-rain-stops-falling/