Left – Olivia Brown and Renae Small. Cover – Peter McAllum. Photos – Bob Seary
A tempest floods Alice Springs and a fish falls from the sky. What does it mean? A christian allegory? An indigenous spiritual incarnation? Or a meteorological black swan? With the slippery, wet creature in his hands a reclusive man is shaken to confession. So goes the opening of Andrew Bovell’s outstanding play When The Rain Stops Falling. It’s a work of great complexity, insight and sorrow and has been called a masterpiece of contemporary theatre. Bovell is an excellent writer. He is the AWGIE award winning author of Speaking in Tongues and its cinematic adaptation Lantana. But his material is far from easy. It is in this light that the New Theatre’s outstanding production must be given full credit. This is good material and requires enormous commitment, concentration, and vulnerability from the players. Kudos to Director Rachel Chant and the New Theatre for this is a production which positively sings.
A lonely man in a thunderstorm in Alice Springs in 2034. A young lady in a roadhouse in South Australia. A man writing mournful and disconsolate postcards from Uluru. How do these disconnected realities intersect? The elliptical chronology of Bovell’s plot allow characters to be revealed in interlocking episodes and as windows are opened on past and future we encounter the narrative as through a deck of cards or rediscovered old photographs. It is an unsettling and confronting experience. The characters we meet, though sympathetic, are not always easy to like. Their decisions are vexing and consequences are nearly always unintended. But a consequence of the plays sashimi chronology is that the audience experiences not only cause, but also affect. There is a certain brutality in this. We are yoked to the narrative wheel and its rutts bruise the audience as much as the characters. It is chastening stuff.
Through When The Rain Stops Falling, Bovell is talking about something like Karma. What happens to us is connected to what happened to other people. And what each of us does ourselves happens to others as well. It is fertile dramatic territory and goes in wonderfully unexpected and relevant directions. This sense of our relation to others, be it through love, anger, hope, or shame is the grout in Bovell’s cracked tiles. We feel the effect of time on character, on landscape, on memory. The whole thing is a tragedy and yet through a sense of connection even the most discarded characters are given a human warmth. As the vulnerable and somewhat naive Gabriel, Tom Conroy is sympathetic and believable. He is cunningly opposed by his stony and alcoholic mother (Helen Tonkin), and falls wonderfully in love with the fierce and tender Gabrielle York (Renae Small). David Woodland, Hailey McQueen, Olivia Brown and Peter McAllum all give fine and nuanced performances. A deceptively simple set by Tom Bannerman and Martelle Hunt allows Ben Brockman’s lighting to cast shifting landscapes across the imagination with minimal input.
When The Rain Stops Falling is a very good play and this is a cracking production.
New Theatre presents
When the Rain Stops Falling
by Andrew Bovell
Director Rachel Chant
Venue: New Theatre | 542 King Street Newtown NSW
Dates: 7 March – 18 April 2015
Tickets: $17 – $32