Review: When The Rain Stops Falling (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 17 – Apr 18, 2015
Playwright: Andrew Bovell
Director: Rachel Chant
Cast: Olivia Brown, Tom Conroy, Peter McAllum, Hailey McQueen, Renae Small, Helen Tonkin, David Woodland
Photography © Bob Seary (top gallery) / Benjamin Brockman (bottom gallery)

Theatre review
Upon entering the auditorium, the rumbling sounds of a tropical monsoon emanates from the stage to greet us. Without characters and narratives, we sit listening, surrendering to the voluntary effects that our physical selves cannot help but react with. Emotions surface, seemingly for no rhyme or reason. The art that we experience changes us, without letting us know how and why. A delicious melancholy, like a calm sadness, washes over. When the story begins, we are already hypnotised. Andrew Bovell’s When The Rain Stops Falling is a play about family ties and the challenges that can be passed on from one generation to the next. Personal anguish and relational discordance affect the development of children, and we see the inevitable inheritance of wounds that result from flawed parents and imperfect parenting. Bovell’s poetic use of language and his liberal approach to plot construction, make for an intriguing script that is dramatically unpredictable and achingly beautiful. Its outstanding storytelling connects with every person’s complex feelings about home, and appeals to our thirst for a brand of theatre that is deeply moving.

Direction of the piece is provided by Rachel Chant, who impresses with an extraordinarily deft hand at emotive expression. Our senses are captivated for the entire two-hour duration, by her sensitive and adventurous exploration of sound and sight, along with an inventive use of the cast’s physical and spiritual presence in the space, to create a quality of pathos that is intensely lyrical but never melodramatic. Chant succeeds in reaching us through atmospherics and narrative, enveloping us both consciously and unconsciously, so that our attention is steered carefully through every twist and turn of the play. Excellent work is achieved in establishing a singular vision through an evidently trusting collaboration with every actor and designer of the production, although one bizarre blemish does exist in the unexplained transformation of character Gabrielle’s speech accent, which goes from a broad Australian voice to an unmistakably British one with the passage of time.

The ensemble of seven is uniformly arresting, each with their own distinctive presentation styles, but all are able to find for the piece, an exacting cohesion in tone and pace. Tom Conroy is thoroughly convincing, giving a performance memorable for its heartbreaking vulnerability and almost unbelievable simplicity. Conroy’s pared-down approach is a refreshing one, filled with subtleties that reveal just enough, and also, everything. The stoic Elizabeth is played by Helen Tonkin who mesmerises in extended sequences of Butoh-esque silence, with unwavering concentration and a painful depiction of inner struggle and sorrow. Suffering is also portrayed brilliantly by Peter McAllum, whose moments of quiet authenticity turn a small role into a profoundly meaningful one.

Hailey McQueen’s naturalistic interpretation of her role is solid and elegant, but a decision to downplay a crucial scene of confrontation is questionable. Similarly, David Woodland’s performance is most compelling, but an opportunity to erupt with greater wildness is foregone perhaps unwisely. The play is rich with regret, despair and longing, qualities that tend to be dark and heavy, and even though its sombre beauty is unquestionably enthralling, a hint of brutality would provide a greater sense of theatricality, .

From a design perspective, the creative team is a formidable one. Tom Bannerman and Martelle Hunt’s set carves out modern shapes that delineate spaces quietly but efficiently. Its hard lines and sparseness represent the chilling emptiness that is at the centre of much of the text, and ensures that the audience is affected accordingly. Lights by Benjamin Brockman provide spacial transformations and emotional cues, constantly evolving on stage to manufacture shifts in time and space, and to reflect fluctuating states of minds, and hearts. It is a rare occurrence to have the sound design of a non-musical theatre production steal the thunder, but Nate Edmondson and Alistair Wallace’s partnership is a clear triumph. Their work is original, surprising and experimental, but always effective and often powerful. It is omnipresent, but never distracting. There is an accuracy to the way the sound of When The Rain Stops Falling parallels, or perhaps determines, the stage action that makes the show inexorably involving and at many points, sublimely devastating.

There is a masochistic pleasure in witnessing the secrets of broken families unravel. We are relieved that our own private pains are shared, and we gain a sense of redemption from the realisation of that universality. At the theatre, we are never alone. With good plays, we can gain insight, and think of impending rainbows.