Tuesday, 13 October 2009

When The Rain Stops Falling, MTC ****

by Andrew Bovell, Melbourne Theatre Company with Brink Productions
 Sumner Theatre, MTC, October 13 to November 22, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Rain falls, rivers flood and lives are changed during the eight decades of When The Rain Stops Falling. This family epic tale is about the human condition. What else? It allows us to view, through the foggy glass of time, the evolution of a family over four generations as the bloodlines of two families collide.

It is a melancholy tale about fraught people who cannot express their emotions so they clam up and cut off their loved ones, leaving them alone and broken. There is a sense of hollowness and quiet despair in every person.

The play begins in 2039 in Alice Springs, returns to London in 1959 and continues in South Australia in 1988 and 2013. It covers an expansive physical, psychological and emotional landscape but also zooms in on minute character details. We witness the echoes of traits that jump generations. Everybody suffers a tragedy, is abandoned and feels the absence of a person, of love or of purpose.

Parallel to the human story is the devastation of the land and the climate. There is drought and flooding rain. What begins as a turn of phrase – “People are drowning in Bangladesh” – becomes fact.

It rains on stage. Gabriel York (Neil Pigot) stands under an umbrella. A fish falls out of the sky. It is a miracle, like manna from heaven. Fish are now a delicacy near extinction. The man, addressing us directly, explains the phone call and impending visit from the son (Yalin Ozucelik OK) he abandoned when the boy was a child. By sending the fish, the heavens provide lunch for the son.

Pigot is magnetic and poignant as both Gabriel and his own grandfather, Henry. His opening scene is compelling and the highlight of the show. There are fine performances from Ozucelik, Anna Lise Phillips, Kris McQuade, Carmel Johnson, Paul Blackwell and Michaela Cantwell. Quentin Grant provides evocative live music.

Bovell’s script was developed in collaboration with director, Chris Drummond, designer, Hossein Valamanesh, (OK) and actors. However, the spare style, complex dramatic structure, interlocking narrative threads and reincorporation of dialogue and themes are signatures of Bovell’s writing.

The audience must work to draw together the elements. Not until the final scene are we certain where this story is heading. The production is quirky and interesting but the repetitive, almost rippling rhythm slows it down, reducing a little the impact of such resonant themes.

By Kate Herbert

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