The Student
When The Rain Stops Falling
by Rob Lownie, 13/02/19

Andrew Bovell’s When the Rain Stops Falling is a family saga which spans several generations and two continents, but one which is confined to a single kitchen. In Bedlam’s excellent production of the play, the set is sparse and minimalistic, consisting of a table and chairs, a pot of fish soup and a single window frame hanging suspended from wires. The piece deals with grand themes of determinism, abandonment and inherited suffering, all whilst taking place in an intimate, often claustrophobic setting, as rain falls incessantly outside.

The central character is Gabriel Law (Charlie O’Brien), a young man who leaves an unfulfilling life in London to travel to Australia, following in the footsteps of the father who mysteriously deserted him and his mother two decades earlier. We see Gabriel find love with a local woman, played with a terrific mix of innocence and world-weariness by Georgiana Day, and learn more about the terrible secrets concealed within his past. The action moves between different time settings and locations with fluidity, indicated by text on a screen at the back of the stage. At certain points, characters from various strands of the narrative, even versions of the same characters at different ages, occupy the space together. It is a credit to the playwright, and to director Lucy Davidson, that this never becomes confusing.

The theme of climate change referenced in the play’s title is deftly managed, without threatening to overwhelm the central familial drama. Sound effects conjure up the pitter-patter of rain and the crash of lightning, while characters regularly look out of the afore-mentioned window frame as if yearning for something greater than their lot in life. In the London storyline, the rain is mainly demonstrative of a drab setting populated by troubled individuals; in the Australia of 2039, it becomes something more apocalyptic. This imagined future manages to be at once familiar, dystopian and almost Biblical, from the fish that falls from the sky at the play’s opening to the final tableau, reminiscent of Leonardo’s The Last Supper.

The nine-strong cast is uniformly impressive. Particularly memorable are Kelechi Hafstad as the older Elizabeth Law, Gabriel’s embittered, alcoholic mother, and Dominic Sorrell as Joe Ryan, who gives his character a heart-breaking vulnerability through his hunched physicality and wavering voice. Angus Gavan McHarg is compelling in the complex role of Gabriel’s father, who offsets the tragic series of events. Described in the piece as “a shadow… a vapour of a man,” his presence hovers over scenes in which he does not appear.

There are flaws. The opening monologue, though performed well by Barney Rule, is overly long. Some of the dialogue is ponderous and self-consciously philosophical – one metaphor involving the mythology of the god Saturn becomes a little forced. These are, however, minor blips in an otherwise superb show, which only gets better as it progresses, culminating in the most moving finale that I have seen at the theatre in years.

When The Rain Stops Falling

6-9 February

Bedlam Theatre

Image: Andrew Perry