Opening night at The Drill Hall Theatre and the sky heralds the evening's events: looming clouds, ominous and full of portent. An 'each way bet', as many weathered punters would say. Live theatre is like that: we have come to bear witness and see what's on offer and manage to take our seats before the heavens open up again.
A full house (almost) and for Mullumbimby, this is exceptional. The audience, as diverse as the cast and crew, settle into their seats and prepare. The minimal set informs me that this will be an in-depth performance, reliant on the skill and expertise of directing, acting, sound, lighting and all the people in-between. Was I wrong? Oh no – this 'slice-of-life' has so much content, a complex set would just diminish the overall effect. The actors are all over it, and any show that begins with a spirit figure singing 'Jerusalem' has partially nailed it from the get-go.
"In Alice Springs a fish falls from the sky at the feet of Gabriel York. Gabriel knows something is not right..."
A busker stands with hat prepared as the faceless crowd, with umbrellas, walk hither and thither. It is 2039 and fish is a delicacy that only the very rich can afford. Sounding familiar already! A family tree is growing (all that rain must be good for something) and we are taken on a journey through time: back then 'when'; here, now, 'perhaps'. Family issues that traverse time and space but will they ever be resolved? Realisations, questions and wonderings (and wanderings) that play out via seven human beings, in the state of being human, in a time span that embraces hope, no hope and coping in the best way they can manage. Sound ambiguous? Yes, this play has all of this and more. The Coorong, Adelaide and Alice Springs, NT, between 1988 – 2039; London 1959 – 1988; the actors are introduced separately, together, singularly and always with maximum impact. Many lines repeated, through different eras and in different circumstances; sometimes skewed but always thought-provoking.
The clever use of props and the introduction of these props over the duration of an era help meld this performance into the sum total of its parts. Add sound effects and music, introduced (with warnings in case the audience has a conniption) throughout the evening – job done. And what is the job, many audience members were wondering? Actors in the audience (now there's a hard crowd to please, having first-hand knowledge themselves of what it is like to act out these complex issues on stage) had mixed emotions. The people behind me, at intermission, said, "so well done and thoroughly convincing." My partner cried through the second half – such an emotional roller-coaster. Much laughing, as well, with comedy relief a necessity for such intensity and 'truth-telling' that many of the audience members could relate to (the beauty of live theatre and well constructed words and thoughts).
When the Rain Stops Falling is "Andrew Bovell's enigmatic masterpiece – an epic family saga spanning 80 years from 1950s London, to the Coorong, and to 2039 in Alice Springs." Bovell introduces so many characters you recognise, and some you would rather not serve fish to at your dinner table (fish being a recurrent theme throughout the vignettes and stories unfolding).
Some of my favourite lines, "What I remember is his absence and her silence"; "I have such a yearning to be more than I am"; "Can we ever be happy with our old dressing gown again"; "Face up to yourself... years of neglect... this place smells of a man who lives alone.." Stories unfold and segues (lovely use of the word throughout the play, plus The Orchestra Pit go by the name of The Segues, including Andy Bambach, Avia Sebasio-Ong and Peter Haddock). "What's a segue?" asks Gabrielle the Younger (Danni Dwyer take a bow) with response from Gabriel Law (hats off, pardon the pun, to Tom Davies) ".. .a transition from one idea or another." The show is, and wonderfully so, a segue in motion.
Seven dark seats are on stage. A suitcase full of memories is passed along the line. "You reach a moment in your life when you have nothing to say... then you have too much to say." I was singing Black Sorrows on the way home (AND the rain had stopped). "Words unspoken must be the saddest song..." and Cyndi Lauper's "... suitcase of memories.." This is theatre that is challenging and thought-provoking: would you have it any other way?
Accolades to: Andy Bambach (Gabriel York); Chris Benaud (Joe Ryan); Danni Dwyer (Gabrielle younger); Linda Rutledge (Gabrielle older); Avio Sebasio-Ong (The Seer, Andrew Price); Bianca Wildwood (Elizabeth younger); Lorrie Cruickshank (Elizabeth older); Michael Barton (Henry Law); Tom Davies (Gabriel Law) and of course the Director, Gregory Aitken. It takes a village to put a show together – with names too many to list (but you know who you are – take a bow).
Drill Hall Theatre
When the Rain Stops Falling
by Andrew Bovell
Director Gregory Aitken
Venue: The Drill Hall Theatre, Mullumbimby NSW
Dates: 26 January – 12 February 2023
Tickets: $30 – $25