Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers.
When the Rain Stops Falling is a complicated play. By the close of the first minute there had already been umbrella art, a man had screamed into the audience, and a fish had fallen from the sky. The play becomes only marginally less strange after this point.
Despite this slightly absurd starting point, the opening monologue, delivered by Gabriel York (an impressive performance by Nic Mayrhofer) after he has finished screaming, and prompted by the aforementioned fish, brings the play a little closer to earth and deftly sets the tone going forward. The story of When the Rain Stops Falling is that of a family spanning four generations, with each being failed by the one before, then failing their children in the same ways. It is slow and melancholic, and the play’s 80-year span allows for a nuanced exploration of how the way we are raised shapes us, and how that goes on to influence the people around us. How family history repeats itself – over and over again.
A real understanding of this theme is what gives NUTS’ production its first laurel. Throughout the work, scenes, parts of scenes, and even turns of phrase are echoed – different characters in different places going through the same motions. The way these moments are staged in this production, with the same movements in the same positions only with different actors and context, evokes an appropriately eerie sense of déjà vu that is a credit to director Emily Austin.
These mirrored moments are not the only way the play works to show how past events trickle down to influence the present. Over the course of the play, scenes from different times occasionally ‘collapse’ in upon each other, providing a contrast between the two or showing the action in different lights. The technique is uncommonly abstract for the work and, as such, can take a little time to adjust to before the audience has time to become familiar with the whole complement of characters. The payoff, however, is tremendous, and sets up some genuinely heart-wrenching moments. Perhaps the highlight of its use is the moment in which a much older Gabrielle York (with two ‘l’s and an ‘e’; played by Angie Weckert) watches her younger self (Chloe Tyrell) during one of her few happy moments, leaving the viewer torn between the perspectives of the two characters.
Perhaps the only real disappointment with the story comes with the reveal of the play’s original absentee father Henry Law (Lachlan Houen) as a, probably murderous, paedophile. While certainly shocking, it never feels truly integrated with the rest of the work and thus, somewhat unearned. The reveal’s only real plot significance is as catalyst for Henry’s wife Elizabeth’s change from her young, frustrated intellectual iteration (a standout performance by Taylah Shiell) to the older, broken woman (Winnie Ogilvie) that we see through the eyes of her son, Isaiah Prichard’s Gabriel Law (one ‘l’, Law not York – I know). As it stands, the reveal ends up colouring the whole work with an unnecessary sense of gone-too-far which at times makes a touching and subtle story feel hostile and unapproachable.
The director’s note for the production thanks the crew for putting the ‘magic’ in magical realism, and Austen was right to say so. The lighting design works well to carve up the crowded and mostly unchanging set into distinct areas and feels natural enough that it rarely draws attention to itself. The sound design is a little more hit and miss but the hits are spectacular. While the sad piano covers of pop songs that underscore part of the play often distract from rather than add to their scene, the atmospheric sound – the hum of an engine or the ever-present rain – was reliably in the sweet spot of present but not obtrusive. This is not to say, however, that the sound design plays only a supporting role; the cavernous echoes that accompany some of the most important notes in the play are both a striking effect and draw attention to what that line means for the characters, present and otherwise.
While the feel of the production became distinctly messier during its latter half, that part also contained some of the best scenes and performances of the show. The dramatic irony of the scene in which Gabriel and Gabrielle declare their love for one another blissfully ignorant of the fact that they are about to wrap their car around a tree at 140 kph is enough to make you feel ill and the scene where Gabrielle tells Elizabeth Law of her son’s death in that accident would feel at home in any professional production.
All in all, NUTS’ production of When the Rain Stops Falling is a skilful execution of a complicated and extremely heavy work. While the scrappy, rough-around-the-edges feel common to student productions is absolutely present in this one, the powerful performances and clever design and direction of its best scenes make its flaws easy to forgive and can leave the audience reeling long after the curtain falls.
We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and emerging. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.