When The Rain Stops Falling @ The New

Production photos by Bob Seary

I loved this show. One of my favourites this year so far, in fact. But there is a secret to enjoying it. Luckily I had a crony with me who had seen it earlier in the week and he let me in on the trick just as I will clue you in. It’s a brilliant script but you have to buy into the story, the characters and the style… immediately. From the first umbrella ballet to when the rain stops falling. Do this and you will take it away with you. Myself, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.

The story revolves around a series of characters who are obviously from different time periods and who must be somehow connected to Gabriel York who we meet in the first monologue. Gabriel left his wife and son many years ago. “The boy had a better chance without me.” He has just been contacted by Andrew who wants answers from his abandoning father.

Since a fish drops out of the dripping sky into Gabriel’s arms, we get the idea that the planet is in trouble. That it might be the end. That the rain might never stop. Gabriel obviously speaks to us from the future. As the other characters are introduced we definitely know that they are in different time periods. But who they are, where and when they are and who they are to each other is the puzzle.

And this production, as directed by Rachael Chant, strives to make the audience work hard for the reward of solving that mystery. The experience, though, is more than just detection. It’s about the layers of interaction and the web of interconnection and the themes. I think the themes are what I am most thoughtful about. There is a bit of everything in the text. Women’s right to choose, rising sea levels, social responsibility vs love, aging, guilt. But none of it hits you over the head. It just sits toadlike in the corner of the events.

Not that very much actually happens. It’s a wordy play, dense. With long passages of text where each phrase has subtext and words fall like the droplets of the sound effect rain track. But it is far from a radio play. The performers have clear inner worlds, evident when we focus in on what they do while they speak or when they make a tableau behind a speaker. Focus is required because they are unreliable narrators of their own lives.

One character quotes: “man’s intellect triumphs over irrational fears”. The production is often very Brechtian and we  are the intellectual observers. Distancing techniques are well used by the director. Still characters on the set who are not involved in the scene, a kind of split screen effect created by light and the nuances of the names.

But when the emotion hits, it hits hard. Our focus is narrowed down to a pinpoint of light on a character’s face or the single chord wailing under an overt emotion. Especially clever was the choice to have all characters respond to the final reveal in organic rather than orchestrated ways. Just brilliant ensemble work and I would be loath to praise any over the other.

David Woodland, Helen Tonkin, Renae Small, Peter McAllum, Olivia Brown, Halley McQueen and Tom Conroy are the cast. Each actor brings depth of being, solid voice work and nuance to their roles. Because of the style, any lapse of being would severely affect the audience engagement in the whole.

Their work is well supported by the excellent music created by Nate Edmondson, a composer who seems to be everywhere at the moment. His use of low electronica morphing into single light piano under the initial monologue is a masterful and his use of bass to build a bridge to the first scream is wonderful. His audio design is created with Alistair Wallace and the loud, topical downpour which greets the audience on arrival expertly fades to a subtle and ‘just there’ underscore.

There are discussions to be had about the use of side lighting by Benjamin Brockman and the amount of stage space taken by the rake as designed by Tom Bannerman and Martelle Hunt. And there is an argument to be had about the costuming by Hunt. I really appreciated the vagueness of period and felt it added to my curiosity and problem solving. My companion wanted the costuming or the set to more clearly define the time and the characters in that time.

And that discussion turned out to be the tip of the iceberg in our over coffee debrief. On his pre-show advice, I had not asked the play to make my intellectual decisions for me but rather, I interacted with the myriad meanings beyond the story. And I am richer for it and, like him, need to see this production again.

WHEN THE RAIN STOPS FALLING is playing at the New Theatre, Newtown until April 18th.

For more about When The Rain Stops Falling, visit http://newtheatre.org.au/when-the-rain-stops-falling/