When The Rain Stops Falling
Almeida Theatre Summer 2009
Andrew Bovell's new play is a rumination on family, on recurring patterns and the persistence of connection between people who may not even have met each other but are bound by blood.
It's a play that grows on you as its mythos develops and begins to resonate, and its ideas and images will stay with you long after you leave the theatre.
Paradoxically, Bovell's central pattern is of abandonment, of fathers who desert their sons and sons who, in searching for their fathers, find themselves abandoning their own sons.
He follows one family through four generations, from 1959 to 2039, and from London to the Outback of Australia.
There are actually five time and place settings, presented to us in jumbled order, but we quickly pick up where and when we are in each scene. A son whose father ran off to Australia in the 1960s goes in search of him in 1988. He dies, leaving a son whose rootlessness will lead him eventually to abandon his wife and his son, who will come looking for him in 2039.
Bovell draws us into his vision of connectedness not just through this pattern, but through recurring images and even whole chunks of dialogue that one generation will repeat without knowing that their parents or grandparents had said (or, in the play's moving around in time, will say) before them.
Director Michael Attenborough reinforces this by allowing actors from one scene to linger silently onstage through part of the next, or to enter early for a scene that will follow, increasing our sense that all are present in some ghostly way in each other's reality.
And it works. Near the end a father and son who are virtual strangers discover that they look a bit alike, but long before that we've understood that none of these characters exists in a vacuum, and that each carries some part of the others, even those yet to be born.
Of course this requires a certain amount of manipulation by the author, and just occasionally his cleverness and his machinery show.
The reason for the first father's disappearance, when it is finally revealed, is rather banal, and his connection to one of the other characters a bit forced. One character's out-of-nowhere lecture on Diderot is never really integrated into the play.
And if you think too hard about some of the recurring images and symbols - rain, fish soup, a painted room - they prove to be little more than gimmicks, and they are best left to resonate without analysis.
In a large and excellent cast, a few performers stand out by creating particularly rounded and understood characters - Phoebe Nicholls as a wife/mother who has willed herself into pain-free coldness, Naomi Bentley as a young woman forcing herself to consider the possibility of happiness, Leah Purcell as her older self re-examining her life's gains and losses, and Simon Burke as an amiable bloke trying to settle for the small approximation of life he has been granted.
The play begins and ends with all the characters impossibly seated around the same table. The first time we see them like this, we don't know who they are, so the image means nothing.
But by the end the picture is very powerful, as we understand the playwright's vision that they have all been there all the time.
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Review of When The Rain Stops Falling - Almeida Theatre 2009