Brighton Year-Round 2023
What enterprise. Do see this if you can.
Directed by Steven Adams, Stage Manager/Props Vicky Horder, ASM Rosalind Caldwell
Set Design Construction and Decor Steven Adams and Set Construction and Painting Mimi Goddard, Andy Hund, The Cast & Crew. Set Panting Leigh Ward.
Lighting & Sound Design Beverley Grover, Lighting /Sound Operation Ciaran O’Connor. Projections Steven Adams, Costumes Bradley Coffey, Photography Miles Davies
With special thanks to Kirrily Long, Glenys Harries-Rees, Teddington Theatre Club
Till March 11th
Andrew Bovell’s 2008 When the Rain Stops Falling also asks what happens when the music stops. Steven Adams directs this hugely ambitious, complex narration of transmitted family trauma and possible redemption, over 80 years from 1959 to 2039, where we start and end, in 22 scenes.
This modern Australian classic (first UK staging at the Almeida, 2009) is a fiendishly intricate piece, with doubling actors shifting in and out tonally, and indeed when paired with a younger or older versions of themselves, matching traits to somehow yoke these two actors as recognisably the same person at different stages of their lives. Helpfully the excellent BLT programme provides a family tree with photos of the actors to remind you who’s playing who.
Alice Springs Desert. Leigh Ward is Gabriel York, aged 50 in 2039. Right at the start a fish falls at Gabriel’s feet – in 2039 they’re virtually extinct. Many think this is the end of days, with terminal global warming and floods worldwide. Gabriel’s a wandering loner who receives a call from his son Andrew, 28 (Elliot Dryer-Beers), whom he’s not seen in over 20 years. Ward pitches this intro beautifully, and Bovell springs some witty versions of what the pair might have said over the phone and what they did. Dryer-Beers who has more to say in the final scene, expresses a warmth that pushes through the hurt.
Throughout the play themes of eating, fish and fish soup in varying stages of edibility, as well as catch-phrases repeat litanically, as if somehow even thinking is transmitted across generations: like the flooding in Bangladesh, or painting a room off-white, ‘not stark white like a hospital’.
Ward’s back 80 years as his own grandfather Henry Law playing scenes over 11 years (1959-70) who vanishes near here in 1970, an act that draws his son (also Gabriel Law played by Daniel Carr, whom the later Gabriel is named after) to seek the pale his father vanished 18 years before. Nearby he falls into the arms of vulnerable waystation waitress Gabrielle (Holly Everett) beautifully observed, with Ward the standout of the evening. Everett’s scenes with Carr are particular tender, and Everett brings a truth that Carr responds to with understated grace. Subtext and complexity are important, and this really is a play full of such tonal shifts.
Tess Gill plays the older Gabrielle York in 2013, after a bitterly unhappy life, tragedy then alienation as her son leaves at 17, comforted by a man who saved her life, the unthanked Joe Ryan (Mike Skinner) nicely observed: infinitely patient till he isn’t as the older Gabrielle slipping into the terrors of dementia, asks final favours – Gill unsparing in her depiction of a woman only 50 but knowing she’s losing herself in a matter of weeks.
Gabrielle’s plight is compounded from the start by the murder of an older brother at eight, and her parents’ suicide. There’s terrible links throughout this play, elements of Greek tragedy that unfurl, and it begins with the Laws.
Ward, as Henry law is all breeze and intellectual bonhomie with his young wife Elizabeth Law (Charlotte Atkinson) who Bovell perhaps too heavily paints as someone who can top any facts her husband brings: this doesn’t alienate him. ’I fell in love with your brains’ but Elizabeth wants more, including sexual passion. There’s mysterious moments, a woman chasing Henry to return a hat that isn’t his (but which surfaces later) and an unfathomable mugging. Atkinson is able to blossom more fully in the second half, as she discovers devastating facts not found in her beloved Diderot Encyclopedia (which makes a final appearance, as does Diderot’s famous dressing gown), and raises her performance to shuddering horror.
Suzanne Heritage as the older Elizabeth Law interacts mainly with her son in 1988, Carr frustrated with his mother’s evasions and secrecy over his father. Her finest moment comes in a telephone conversation with Everett.
Clearly this is a play needing huge tonal range, and delivering complex subtexts. Everett and Ward, and latterly Atkinson pitch this with particular acuteness, and there’s good work from Skinner too, as well as just the right warmth from Carr and (more briefly) Dryer-Beers, with Gill’s lurch to tragedy and aphasia, as well as Heritage’s older Elizabeth taking more and more refuge in drink, particularly challenging roles.
Adams’ set is a simple table across the set slightly upstage so that simultaneously two timelines can provide food. Whereas on one side soup ladles are provided, there’s an array of props (including that fish) and glittering tureen that allows Adams to bring all the cast at one point together, as if sitting for a collective family last supper. It’s a strikingly original touch, and an inclusive one underscoring the play’s ending. There’s also a set of coat-pegs so the entrances and exits into the rain become a metaphor over 80 years. Adams also provides the very helpful projections, to show us when we are, sometimes in two periods simultaneously.
Beverley Grover’s sound yammers that gently maddening rainfall, and Adams has added a mesmerising real rain-effect on another window.
Though designed as a straight-through over two hours, Adams has wisely broken this into two acts. The second act, where it all comes together, is where both narrative satisfies and the cast plumb greater depths.
Taking this on is frankly heroic. It’s intricate, with roles stretching technique, though some lines of the otherwise excellent Bovell – mainly the stilted intellectual indigestion of the Laws – are a little forced. The cast here do their best, with a touch of pert asperity. Adams and the BLT team prove how remarkable a repertory company BLT have become. Such a work can’t often render pitch-perfect delivery throughout for any team, but what enterprise. Do see this if you can.