This post was originally written on 5th July, 2009.
Yesterday we spent an evening in Islington. It was a beautiful day and we sat by Regent’s Canal and had a drink from the Narrow Boat Pub (Beer in a shoe, anyone?). Like many local pubs, people take plastic cups of beer and sit outside on benches or on the ground.
After the drink, we walked over to the Almeida Theatre to see the critically-acclaimed When the Rain Stops Falling. The play, which was written by the Australian playwright and screen writer Andrew Bovell, is having its European premier at Almedia.
When the Rain Stops Falling tells an epic, multi-generational story set in the UK and Australia. It is not told in a linear fashion, but is instead related through a series of flashbacks and flashforwards. The action takes place at a number of different times, ranging from the 1950s until 2039, a point which may be the end of the world. The play opens at this point and we are presented with a view of an enviromentally apocalyptic future in which it does not stop raining even in the Australian outback and in which a fish falls from the sky onto the foot of Gabriel. Gabriel has just received a phone call from his grown-up son, Andrew, whom he had not seen since the boy was seven. Gabriel dreads and at the same time welcomes this unexpected visit. However, he is uncertain what he can tell his boy about their family history. From here, the play advances, or rather, retreats backward to recount the complicated story of the family which includes a pedophile, a frustrated mother, and two lovers also named Gabriel.
Bovell’s history contains a great deal of repetition and variation — certain passages are spoken by different characters at different points in the story. Although the words are identical, they take on very different meaning within the context of the scene. This suggests how history repeats itself, but with a difference. For example, in the opening scene, when old Gabriel is preparing for his son’s visit, he describes how he cleans and paints his filthy house. Later, the same passage is spoken by a female character who has just discovered that her husband is a pedophile and the speech reflects her attempt to clean her husband’s sin. While the old Gabriel’s speech is comical and inspires laughter from the audience, the later version of the speech brings empathy.
True to the title, it rains throughout the play and this along with other themes such as the fish link the generations together. In the staging of the play, the different generations blend and are sometimes shown sitting together at the same table while extensively living separate lives. The rain in the title is effectively presented on stage as a constant mist which seems to exist outside of the imaginary walls of the characters’ houses.
The story of When the Rain Stops Falling would not seem overly original if told in a straightforward fashion. However, Bovell’s clever structure and neat thematic repetition makes the play engaging and very mesmerising throughout.