Thursday, November 11, 2010

When the rain stops falling by Andrew Bovell

When the rain stops falling by Andrew Bovell.  A collaboration with Hossein Valamanesh and Brink Productions.  Directed by Chris Drummond at The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre, November 10-13, 2010.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
November 10

This production of a play, described by Richard Zoglin in Time as ‘easily the best new play of the year’ at its US premiere at the Lincoln Centre in March this year, is a privilege to behold.  The acting, direction and design all fall into their right places stylistically and technically in a jigsaw puzzle which comes together piece by piece. 

At first there are scattered elements of a picture picked up seemingly at random from four generations leading to the meeting of Gabriel York and his son Andrew Price.  The experience watching is exactly as happens while reconstructing a complex 1000 piece puzzle.  Aha! realisations light up completely unexpectedly when it becomes clear that this or that piece just has to go here or there.  Yet it is not until the very last piece is in place that we feel the tension that we might not have everything correctly understood, fall away.  Only as the last clue is revealed, just as the rain stops falling, do we suddenly feel we can breathe again with satisfaction that all is now positively complete.

Zoglin goes as far as to compare Bovell’s work with the achievements of the novelist William Faulkner.  It is a fair comparison in two ways. 

Faulkner used devices like plain print interspersed with italic print and standard sentence structure interspersed with poetic line forms as a way of shifting from time to time or from internal to external experience.    The result is difficult reading until you allow the feelings expressed in the words to wash into your mind without self-consciously seeking logical understanding or even clarity of events.

Bovell’s writing is theatrically interpreted by this production team to create a similar kind of time and perspective shifting, which as Faulkner achieves in the end of The Sound and the Fury, finally comes into clear focus in the final scene of When the rain stops falling.

But the perhaps more important way that the comparison with Faulkner is sensible is that Bovell, as does Faulkner, creates in his jigsaw, images and themes in words and action which symbolise elements of the human condition which recognisably belong to the writer’s culture – American in Faulkner’s case, and Australian in Bovell’s.  In the local we see the universal. 

It is interesting to read the American Zoglin’s description: ‘The play is unrelievedly bleak but with a denouement of unexpected hope: a moving, almost revelatory evening of theater’ while the Australian audience on opening night in Canberra responded to the many moments of ironic humour which are built into our culture.  We certainly found the unexpected hope, but not an unrelieved bleakness.  In fact, without laughter, I suspect, the unexpected hope at the end would have been maudlin and sentimental.  In this production, it was ultimately satisfying to know that Gabriel and his son Andrew, with the help of a fish falling from the sky, could at last enjoy each other’s company after four generations of emotional disaster.

Bovell’s work, it seems to me, has matured in this play even beyond his earlier Holy Day.  Now he has achieved strength in simplicity, placing him among the great playwrights not only of Australia but around the world.