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BWW Reviews: WHEN THE RAIN STOPS FALLING Proves Family Secrets Can Have A Lasting Impact

Thursday 19th March 2015, New Theatre, Newtown NSW

New Theatre's latest offering tells the story of a reunion between an estranged father and son in a wet Alice Springs in 2039 as it unearths the history of 4 generations while the world is faced with apocalyptic flooding and falling fish in Andrew Bovell's WHEN THE RAIN STOPS FALLING.

The Black Box space of New Theatre is lined with a red cloth floor, a sloped white embankment and a suspended white ceiling with lighting rigged vertically along each side wall. The audience is greeted by the sound of persistent rain that eventually becomes a background noise as a man with an umbrella and raincoat stands amongst the moving crowd of similarly dressed people avoiding the rain till he releases a cry of anger and despair and a fish falls from the skies.

The screaming man with the fish is Gabriel York( David Woodland) a middle aged man in an ill-fitting suit living in a run-down little flat in Alice Springs. In a monologue, presented holding the fish, he recounts the events that caused him to go out in the rain, finding food for lunch with the son he'd walked out on years ago who has tracked him down and is coming for lunch.

The story looks back to interactions between Gabriel York's relatives before he finally meets his son Andrew Price (Tom Conroy) for lunch. The 4 stories that weave together to explain the past include Gabriel York's grandmother, Elizabeth Law aged in her 30's(Hailey McQueen), and his grandfather, Henry Law aged in his 40's(David Woodland) in a flat in London in the 1960's; Elizabeth Law aged in her 60's(Helen Tonkin) with his father Gabriel Law aged in his late 20s (Tom Conroy), in the same flat in London in 1988; his father with his mother Gabrielle York, aged in her early 20's(Renae Small) in Australia also in 1988; and his mother(Olivia Brown) and his step father Joe Ryan(Peter McAllum) both in their 50's in Adelaide in 2013.

The complex stories unfold as the family connections start becoming evident and the sparse set of two wooden tables and chairs and use of the space indicates the different locations and story lines. When a character is represented in both a younger and older storyline, the other often remains in their own setting but the similar movements help reinforce that they are the same character. The red cloth floor comes to represent the desert of Uluru as well as Alice Springs and the ceiling drops to represent the night sky and the inclined stage fills in for a Coorong beach and even Uluru.

Along with the collection of secrets that the past holds from future generations, Bovell has also interwoven commonalities that flow back through the 70 odd years from a common meal of fish, simple sayings, and a fascination with off white paint that help tie the generations together. The ability to love, express love, and be loved is also a common theme running through each generation along with loss, betrayal and abandonment.

Director Rachel Chant has taken Bovell's story and created a work that allows her cast to express the emotions and the development beautifully. McQueen expresses the love then disappointment and disgust when her husband's secret is discovered. Tonkin carries the burden of the secret as a seemingly unloving mother with a hardness and distance built over the years as she engages in stilted conversation with her son. Small conveys the persistent grief and sense of abandonment along with the joy of young love as Gabrielle York gets to know Gabriel Law and joins him on his search for answers. Brown, as the older Gabrielle conveys the confusion of a woman losing her mind to dementia or Alzheimer's and living with the memory of a lover lost too soon and settling for a man that she could never love in the same way. McAllum presents the loving husband that has had to live with the knowledge that his wife is still in love with the father of her child, the son he raised as his own, and his difficulty in letting her go.

Woodland carries two roles that bookend the history, presenting the apparent family man Henry Law who in reality holds a dark secret that is the catalyst for the sequence of events that draws Gabriel York's ancestors to Australia. He conveys the self-doubt and feeling of inadequacy that Gabriel York feels as he awaits the reunion with the son he walked away from years ago. Conroy also portrays two roles, that of the last generation and his grandfather. Both men were distanced from their fathers at a young age and Conroy gives Gabriel Law the longing for answers and the hope that he'll find his father along with the passion of young love whilst Andrew Price's story revolves more around receiving clues to the past from his father, left by his grandmother, rather than focusing on Andrew's personal history.

This is a complex story that is presented in a manner that keeps the audience thinking as the connections start forming and the impact the past can have on the future becomes evident. There are moments of joy and humor and also sadness and shock that helps draw the viewer in to want to understand and empathize with the characters. The production is simple in its complexity, drawing on the audience imagination to fill in scenes as Bovell's words transport them around the world with minimalist sets that symbolize tiny apartments, night skies, sandy beaches and red desert.

This production of WHEN THE RAIN STOPS FALLING is a beautifully simple interpretation of Andrew Bovell's award winning play with a broad appeal due to the subject matter of families, secrets and cause and effect.


New Theatre, 542 King Street Newtown

17 March - 18 April 2015

Olivia Brown and Renae Small (Photo: Bob Seary)
Hailey McQueen (Photo: Bob Seary)
Helen Tonkin and Tom Conroy (Photo: Bob Seary)
Olivia Brown, Helen Tonkin, Peter McAllum, Hailey McQueen, Renae Small (Photo: Bob Seary)
The Cast (Photo: Bob Seary)
Peter McAllum and Olivia Brown (Photo: Bob Seary)
David Woodland (Photo: Bob Seary)
Tom Conroy and Renae Small (Photo: Bob Seary)
Renae Small and Tom Conroy (Photo: Bob Seary)
Peter McAllum (Photo: Bob Seary)

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