A man vanishes, mysteriously, at Uluru, after having a vision of a distant, terrifying future. A different man stops at a road-house in the Coorong and meets a girl who works there. An old woman slowly loses her mind. A man obsessed with freak weather events keeps a ghastly, astonishing secret. A child is kidnapped. A man drags an injured woman from the wreckage of a car, away from the corpse of the man in the driver’s seat. In 2039, a fish falls out of the sky, and lands at the feet of a man who has spent his life running away from everything that matters.
Some of these events occur onstage in When the Rain Stops Falling. Others occur offstage. There is so little that I can possibly explain here without destroying some or other crucial element in the shocking, sometimes nightmarish, sometimes unbearably beautiful impact of this extraordinary play. What I can explain more readily is that if you go to see When the Rain Stops Falling, you will be confronted with life. Life that is full of horror, full of laughter, full of tragedy, full of disappointment, full of painful, unpredictable love. For two hours you will be granted witness to intimate moments in the lives of just seven people, and you will be reminded how dark, how wonderful, and how devastating is the world.
The story is in pieces – or rather, there are many stories here, and they connect in subtle and often surprising ways with each other and with a greater whole. The action moves between the 1960s, 1988, 2013, and 2039, and between London and several locations in Australia; and it spans four generations of people, all connected. There is a young English couple living a simple, routine life, in which they appear happy. We know, however, that the husband (Lewis Hirst) is going to leave, because we are also watching their son (Stephen Watson) travelling in Australia as a young man, searching for his identity, because his father fled there many years ago and his mother (Abbie Jones in her youth, but now Zoe Cameron) has never told him why. He meets a woman (Saskia Roberts) whom we are simultaneously following at a much later stage of her life (now Bojana Kos), when she is married to somebody else (Andrew Eddey). And in Alice Springs in 2039, her son (Shaun Wykes) receives a sudden phone call from his own son (John Grant) – a boy he abandoned a very long time ago.
That sketch makes the play sound not only hard to follow, but also potentially self-indulgent and cerebral. Neither could be further from the truth. Unlike in so many such cleverly plotted plays and films, there is never a moment in When the Rain Stops Falling when the fragmentation of the narrative seems anything but totally appropriate and organic. This is the way this story has to be told, nothing more and nothing less. Equally, while symbolism is inlaid in almost everything that occurs, and while the play is acutely aware of the history and culture that inform it, it is never didactic. The focus remains on the characters, and that is enough, because the characters are the source and subject of the remarkable, massive emotional power that courses through this story.
The play was written just five years ago by Australian playwright Andrew Bovell (this production is the first in the National University Theatre Society’s season of Australian plays that is set to span this year). The play undoubtedly deserves to be considered a modern classic. But of course, no matter how great a play may be in script, it is only in the performance that it can assume a true meaning, a true energy, and a true resonance that can transform it into a great work of art. And I cannot stress enough that this production, which has been directed by Ellie Greenwood with assistance from Gowrie Varma, is a genuinely breathtaking, superb rendition of this play. The staging is minimal and nuanced enough that the performance can shift between characters and moments in time with ease; and Greenwood understands exactly when to keep some elements of the story separate, and when instead to bring people from different times onstage together, to offer contrasts and connections with just the right level of immediacy or understatement. The actors are all extremely good, all in full command of their consistently demanding roles. Bojana Kos is electric. Andrew Eddey has a moment near the end when, without saying anything, he reacts to something his wife says; and the way his face falls from hope, happiness and a sense of redemption, into alienation and despair, is heartbreaking.
We do not award star ratings at Woroni. If we did, we would be very stingy with our stars. But you would see this review headed by five of them. This play is on at 7:30 these Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at the ANU Arts Centre, and it deserves to sell out on every one of those nights. If you usually don’t bother with student theatre, or indeed if you don’t go to the theatre at all, make an exception. I guarantee you will be enthralled. I guarantee you will be moved. When the Rain Stops Falling is astonishing. I’m going back to see it again, perhaps even twice. You should go too.
When the Rain Stops Falling by Andrew Bovell
National University Theatre Society
Main Stage, ANU Arts Centre, Union Court, ANU
Wednesday 1st May, 7:30pm
Thursday 2nd May, 7:30pm
Friday 3rd May, 7:30pm
Saturday 4th May, 7:30pm
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