By Lourdes Zamanillo
If you need a cure for Melbourne’s brisk winter blues, head out to Theatre Works this week to catch Theatre Works’ and Iron Lung Theatre’s When The Rain Stops Falling. Written by Australian playwright Andrew Bovell and Directed by Briony Dunn, When The Rain Stops Falling explores the themes of betrayal, abandonment, destruction, forgiveness, and love.
In an interview with Broadway World Pennsylvania, Andrew Bovell said the play depicted the relationship between a family saga and the Anthropocene, in the sense that “we inherit what is unresolved from the past and, if we do not resolve it ourselves, we pass it on to our descendants”. Told through the interconnected stories of two families over four generations that span in time and place from London in 1959 to Coorong to Alice Springs in 2039, When The Rain Stops Falling asks the question: do we have the capacity to address the damage of the past in the future?
The play begins in 2039 at Alice Springs. A fish falls from the sky and Gabriel York, a man in his 60s, knows something is wrong. His son, after years of estrangement, is coming to visit.
“I know what he wants. He wants what all young men want from their fathers. He wants to know who he is. Where he comes from. Where he belongs. And for the life of me, I don’t know what to tell him”, says Gabriel.
The action then shifts to London in 1959, where Henry and Elizabeth Law’s relationship begin to suffer soon after their son, Gabriel Law, is born. In 1988, it is Gabriel Law’s and his mother’s relationship that begins to suffer when Elizabeth won’t shed light on his father’s mysterious disappearance. Keen to piece his family history together, Gabriel Law travels to Australia, where he meets a young woman by the name of Gabrielle York. Troubled by her own past, Gabrielle and Gabriel embark on a journey to the Red Centre, where they discover the truth about their family histories.
The 130-minute-long play is performed without an intermission. And while the prospect of sitting still for two full hours may seem daunting in an age of streaming and lockdowns, when it’s too easy to pause a show, the story delivers. The non-linear structure of the play keeps audiences engaged as we try to make sense of the connection between the stories being unfolded onstage. And while at first the characters’ relation to each other is uncertain, as the drama progresses, their connections become clear.
The play is performed on a minimalistic set comprised of three white flats, onto which imagery is sometimes projected and a dining table. Much of the action revolves around this table, a symbol for families coming together, and a place where family members almost catch glimpses of each other across time.
In that sense, repetition is a fantastic devise used in the script to highlight certain quotes and anecdotes passed down through the family generations. The repeated lines serve to remind us of the role history plays in our life and how influenced we are by the ones that came before us. They also serve to illustrate hidden truths, as phrases acquire new meaning when we are drop-fed new information about the characters.
This brilliantly written play has won numerous awards, including the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, the Queensland Premier’s Literary Award and the Green Room Award, 2008, and the Sydney Theatre Award for Best New Australian Work in 2009. Iron Lung Theatre does a fantastic job bringing this script to life through the stellar performances of its actors, a pragmatic set design, and effective and simple costuming that transports to a time and place without stealing away attention from the action. It’s well worth watching.
Images: Lachlan Woods