Review: When The Rain Stops Falling at John Cooper Studios

Tonight I saw an exceptional new play: memorable, poetic and resonant.

By Angie Millard

Photos by Micheal Joakes

When The Rain Stops Falling is a drama about family betrayal and forgiveness spanning four generations and moving between Britain and Australia. It consists of a series of connected stories which explore the way people deal with their past in order to make sense of their future. Patterns emerge of betrayal and abandonment and the sins of the father inevitably seem to be visited on sons, The past shapes the future in this epic play which stretches from 1959-2039.

It also explores environmental themes in a study of the nature of time which couldn’t be more relevant to us today The cast begin the play sheltering under umbrellas as flooding in Bangladesh continues.

The last time I saw a play by Bovell it was Things I know to be True performed by Frantic Assembly. In this York premiere of ‘When the Rain Stops Falling’ Bovell uses complex structures to explore his chosen themes and does not shy away from controversy. Maggie Smales confronts the material presenting it to as clearly and with theatrical skill. She has vision but shows this subtly, not leading her audience but allowing us to come to terms with the facts. In order to achieve this, Smales uses the placement and movement of characters rather like a musical fugue; props are minimal and furniture is moved into place as part of the action.

The language of the play is remarkable in its use of repetition and echoed imagery. A fish falls from the sky in an end sequence and fish is used as food throughout. One mother (Beryl Nairn) and her son (Adam Sowter) share a meal of fish soup and in clipped Pinteresque dialogue repeat banalities over a meal which will subsequently make him vomit. This use of a shared reference reappears over generations as people try to redecorate their homes. They paint, clean and scrub but finally the room looks the same as it always did.

The actors have created multiple roles with intelligence and insight. The standard of acting is high and is at times painfully moving. Beryl Nairn holds a strong line as mother of Gabriel and there are poignant scenes where she is on stage simultaneously with her younger self. The younger Elizabeth (Florence Poskitt) plays the realisation of her tragedy with confused emotion and the scenes with her husband (James Coldrick) are a master class of understatement.

Their son Gabriel (Adam Sowter) acts as a link between the continents. His search for his father takes us to the York family and further loss. Louise Henry and Sally Mitcham play out a horrific plot twist with intensity and Sowter is drawn in as we knew he must be. Maggie Smales turns in a moving performance as Joe, playing across gender as the unloved partner and we all feel her pain. I imagine there were reasons for this but, personally, I would have preferred a male casting.

The play ends as it began with Mick Liversidge meeting the son he has no right to want or love and his monologues were a finely-judged acting exercise of precision and tone. We catch ourselves pitying someone we should condemn but this is family and Bovell’s resolution.

Phew! When do we leave a theatre so full of questions? This is a play which makes one confront uncomfortable facts and gives no answers but when did I last come out of a theatre buzzing?

When The Rain Stops Falling is a Rigmarole Theatre Company production now playing at the John Cooper Studio until 16 November 2019. The Director is Maggie Smales.