By Steve Williams
When the Rain Stops Falling by Andrew Bovell is a complex play covering eighty years and many lifetimes of emotions in just two hours. The characters go through the whole gamut of joy, love, pain, heartbreak and tragedy and, at times, those differing emotions are being played out by both the younger and older versions of the characters at the same time as we flit back and forth between generations. The play spans the years 1964 to 2044 though never in a linear, ordered fashion. No wonder it took Bovell six years to write, as he tried to weave all the complexities of the stories into one coherent narrative. Helpfully the director added a family tree to the programme, which made it easier to work out who was who.
The play starts in 2044 in Australia with Gabriel York talking directly to the audience about the constant rain, flooding around the world, fish falling from the sky and an impending visit from his son who he hasn’t seen for many years. It is a surreal, powerful and, at times, moving opening soliloquy and requires an actor of consummate skill to both engage the audience and draw us in to the action. Bruce Wallace’s delivery was perfect and he was a joy to watch.
Joe Dominic, as Gabriel Law, gave an assured performance as the young man in search of his father who had mysteriously walked out on the family when he was young and moved to Australia. There were numerous scenes where Gabriel was engaged in conversations with his mother in their English home and his girlfriend in Australia and Joe handled these transitions with ease.
Laura Ings Self played the younger idealistic Gabrielle York who works in the guesthouse in which Gabriel stays on his trip “down-under”. Laura gave a brilliant performance; at times petulant, always loving and deeply poignant – particularly the scene where she describes the disappearance of her younger brother when they were children and the revelation about his demise.
As the older Gabrielle (I know, too many Gabriel/Gabrielles in this play!) Roxana Graves was the best I have ever seen her on the BLT stage. Gabrielle leads a life of regret over the death of Gabriel and her bitterness spills over into her subsequent relationship with the unfortunate Joe Ryan, who she makes suffer as a way of retribution against the world for the loss of the life she could/should have had. Martin Phillips as the long-suffering Joe was an equal match for Roxanne and the two played off each other very well. The scene with them discussing what was to be their last evening together – making love before Joe helped Gabrielle die (she was in the mid stages of Alzheimer’s) – was heart rending.
Richard Toynton and Ruth Jarvis played Henry and Ruth (the younger) Law and are arguably the central couple in the play, their relationship and the events surrounding their separation being key to everything else. Both Richard and Ruth are very fine actors and their portrayal of their “perfect” relationship deteriorating as Henry’s true character comes out was brilliantly judged.
Wendy Jardine was the older Elizabeth, psychologically damaged for life by the events with Henry. She has brought up their young son Gabriel, shielding him from his father’s past whilst slowly degenerating into alcoholism, which tragically pushes Gabriel away and leads to his desperation to find his father with such devastating consequences. I thought Wendy was brilliant in this difficult role. It would be easy to lose sympathy with this character as she was generally so unpleasant to Gabriel, but Wendy delivered just the right amount of pathos to prevent that.
In the last scene Gabriel York’s son, Andrew, appears for the dinner he had been so worried about at the beginning of the play – a theatrical device enabling Gabriel York to bring all the small pieces of evidence gleaned throughout the play together and present them as one, like the denouement to an Agatha Christie novel. Whilst Andrew is a minor role, it still requires a sensitive performance and I thought Simon Holland handled the scene very well.
Jane Lobb directed the play as well as designing the set – albeit a fairly empty utilitarian one – and did an excellent job on both counts. The direction was slick and the characterisation developed with her actors was first-class. The subtle but effective lighting and sound added to the overall picture and Phil Cairns, Martin Phillips, Jane Lobb and Keith Jeremiah deserve praise for this.
This was a challenging and utterly absorbing evening of theatre and I felt drained by the final curtain call but I loved every minute of it. It is good to see BLT leading the way in bringing such difficult and thought-provoking works to the amateur stage. Bravo and long may it continue.