Browse reviews

FringeReview UK 2023

The Wind and the Rain

Gabriel Entertainment Limited in Association with Neil McPherson of Finborough Theatre

Genre: Drama, Live Music, Mainstream Theatre, Theatre

Venue: Finborough Theatre


Low Down

The wonder is it took so long. Geoffrey Beevers revives Merton Hodge’s 1933 The Wind and the Rain for the first London production in 80 years. A huge hit, its structure clearly influenced Terence Rattigan’s first triumph French Without Tears in 1936. It deserves to be as well-known.

An outstanding must-see, and with Dancing at Lughnasa and, to a lesser extent Watch on the Rhine, The Wind and the Rain is the finest 20th century revival I’ve seen this year.

Written by Merton Hodge. Directed by Geoffrey Beevers, Set and Costume Designer Carla Evans, Lighting Designer Richard Williamson. Sound Designer Edward Lewis.

Stage Manager Rebecca Julia Jones, ASM Fay Franklyn, General Manager  Julia Blomberg.

Producer Gabriel Entertainment Limited, PR Kevin Wilson, Photography Mark Snr, Social Media Marketing Lal Yolgecenli.

Till August 5th


The wonder is it took so long. Geoffrey Beevers revives Merton Hodge’s 1933 The Wind and the Rain at Finborough, home of so many won causes, for the first London production in 80 years.

A huge hit, its structure clearly influenced Terence Rattigan’s first triumph French Without Tears in 1936 – Rattigan very much a feature of Paul Miller’s tenure at the Orange Tree (with which Beevers has long been associated), including that one. A group of students away from home, some pursuing love and study, some pretending at both. Familiar. And there’s a Frenchman in Hodge’s play, and indeed some tears.  There’s other parallels too.

So why isn’t Hodge’s play better-known? Less sheerly exuberant than Rattigan but equally well-crafted, The Wind and the Rain touches the seriousness of his later plays instead. Though Hodge went on to write a few more acclaimed plays, he wrote little after 1940, drowning himself in 1958.

Merton Hodge (1903-58) was though a New Zealand-qualified doctor who studied at Edinburgh, practising medicine by day. His play’s set there, over five years at Mrs McFie’s boarding house, some medical students there not qualifying in eight years. It’s grippingly authentic – you can smell the formaldehyde; bones tumble comically out of a cupboard: twice. But it’s universal too.

Bisexual, Hodge eventually married the woman he had a child with when young. This inflects the play; Beevers is sensitive to undercurrents, possibilities of forbidden love – one character disapproves of another harmless one, another doesn’t pursue a same-sex relationship, with the utmost delicacy; but we see it.

The three-act plot’s simple, each act jumping two or two-and-a-half years. Young student over five hardworking years meets a young woman sculptor (“I’m not very good; but I like it”) from New Zealand, despite being promised by his fashionable antiques-specialist mother to a woman he’s been brought up with: a kind of arranged marriage.

Will he return to London, she to New Zealand and marry an equally unsuitable man? And there’s a vivid interlude in Act Two, introducing two vibrant characters to upend it all. That two hours-45 can grip so much attests to the way Hodge makes you care so much for the couple, but everyone else too.

Edward Lewis’ sound often gusts up the Edinburgh rain the title alludes to. Though Richard Williamson’s lighting gets no chance to mark seasons, there’s some touching, affective surprises.

Carla Evans’s striking drawing-room features at one end a cabinet (those bones, and cocktails, beer on top) and a gleaming gramophone, is antique-ended by a period telephone at the mantlepiece-centered  other. Over a Persian rug a circular table’s tablecloths rings the years’ changes, as Mrs McFie (Jenny Lee) welcomes new students with a ritual hotpot: “It’s simple, but it’s good.”

If she’s describing herself Lee ensures the mix of dour-but-warm is never too simplified. From knowing how to stare disapproval, or accepting beer – “I don’t mind if I do” – to being cut off every time she wants to open a conversation, Lee makes us aware of cultural assumptions: even the hero casually asks McFie to go to the cellar and fetch up coal!

That’s after we’ve been introduced to contrasting old-hand students. Perpetual failure, louche, exuberant Gilbert Raymond (Mark Lawrence) and solid, decent if never hugely-developed John Williams (Harvey Cole). Lawrence has a virtuoso part he soon relaxes into, where a potential overreach gradates throughout the play to a melancholic low-point with his ukulele. If brash, Lawrence’s Gilbert is believably vulnerable on occasion.

Lawrence makes you believe he can attract anyone, even if, as Williams points out, Gil’s all mouth.  He certainly makes an impression on one young woman. Cole’s Williams is a sketch of hearty warmth, eternally joshing at Gil’s brags, flecked with what’ll develop: a fine bedside manner.

The resident trio is completed by Dr Paul Duhamel (David Furlong), eternally working for a fellowship long denied for being – French. Furlong charms, ripples melancholy, hinting an unknowable man, accessible yet impenetrable. A steadying mentor, Duhamel knows everyone, takes out glamorous women, one of whom he’s elegantly evading. For the middle of the play he’s absent in the south seas, and this, and that Furlong delicately touches the new arrival at one point, then draws back, says much. Duhamel even knows the student’s mother.

This is Charles Tritton (Joe Pitts), who, apart from his coal-ordering, is atypical. A lover of Shakespeare songs and literature, he thinks of being a writer. Pitts is superb. From wide-eyed shyness to sudden recognition when he meets Duhamel’s evaded woman, to impatience with Gil whom he’s long overtaken, poring over a microscope, to bursts of fury waiting on exams, he’s consummate. He’s equally consummate in the tender, hesitant then antiphonally rapturous and ruptured love with Anne Hargreaves (Naomi Preston-Low) who’s come looking politely for Duhamel.

Bonding over a book of Shakespeare’s songs – from where the title’s from which Pitts sings beautifully with Preston-Low, it’s a wholly believable love-affair. Grounded in 1930s mores, where sex is hinted but still something huge for a very young woman,  the tension’s palpable. Across the table, enfolded in each other’s arms as they sing, then finally – it’s an explosive release, one reason this play notched 1001 performances on its first run and why it’s perennial.

Preston-Low’s performance is of surface containment, even dignity and steely determination. But there’s tremulous feeling, barely held in then uncontrolled as she admits it. With a faultless accent that somehow embodies that sense of displacement Anne recognises, almost a colonial bashfulness, Preston-Low ripples Anne’s independence with a readable passion.

When Preston-Low proclaims: “Our paths lie different ways now. You see, these years have nothing to do with the main stream of your life. That’s all ahead…” you feel both Anne’s wisdom and denial: it’s not completely true. You absolutely believe in her and Pitts; their chemistry pulses in this intimate space.

There’s terrific light relief too in Act Two with the exuberance of Jill Mannering (Helen Reuben) in a champagne-cork of a performance from her breezing in, through selfish demands, casual ownership of Charles to her whooping laughter even after she’s left the stage, usually panicking demanding her latest beau waits: a telling insecurity. Rueben – best-known of this wonderful young ensemble – revels in a virtuoso part, munching foie-gras sandwiches, discomfiting her latest lover, Bentley-thrusting Roger Cole (Lynton Appleton), with an attraction to more-than-equal Gil.

Reuben can also turn suddenly cold too, confronting an unexpected young woman when she too returns unexpectedly. Reubens’ gradations of composure are telling, her look at Pitts’ Charles a dismissal. For now.

Handsomely en brosse, both brash, lip-curling and suspicious – notably cold first to Charles, then Gil – Appleton commands the room mixing cocktails, and when challenged, glints with barely-concealed jealousy. It’s a fine performance. Appleton later takes the more conventionally-brushed Peter Morgan, rich medical student at the end of the play who also drives up, and unaccountably pockets Jill’s forgotten photo on the mantlepiece; like a prop that shouldn’t be there.

The surprise plotting of Act Three’s psychologically plausible, the end almost not what you expect.

Strikingly, Peter Morgan’s tiny part recalls the name of Rattigan’s ex-lover whose 1949 suicide inspired Hester Collyer and The Deep Blue Sea. Some will be struck by this coincidence. And that’s the point. Beevers honours the original, because to read this as an essentially gay-keyed play would be to ignore another side of Hodge. Though there’s a nice hint of Hodge’s probable affair with Noel Coward.

But Beevers brings out subtext too. Dr Duhamel too – surely a hommage to George Duhamel (1884-1960), novelist and doctor – quietly says much in Furlong’s shadowed gaiety. As Anne says of Duhamel, underneath the warmth and sagacity, he’s the saddest man she knows.

There are jarring moments. Why warm Mrs McFie disapproves of Anne is a mystery: too close to Duhamel? A period-comic feature lies in how McFie’s always prevented from speaking for herself. Why in 1933 Charles doesn’t feel able to challenge his mother when he and Jill have palpably grown apart smacks more of mother-son stand-offs in The Vortex.

Nevertheless, Pitts and Hodge strongly suggest Charles’ diffidence and dependency. At the heart of this play, Preston-Low and Pitts glow with first love, and the whole cast gleam with truth. If you enjoy Rattigan at all, you’ll love this. It deserves to be as well-known as French Without Tears.

An outstanding must-see, and with Dancing at Lughnasa and, to a lesser extent Watch on the Rhine, The Wind and the Rain is the finest 20th century revival I’ve seen this year.