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A CurtainUp London London Review
When the Rain Stops Falling

Somewhere at the end of this mess is where you belong.— Gabriel York
When the Rain Stops Falling
Phobe Nicholls as older version of Elizabeth Law and Lisa Dillon as her younger self
(Photo: John Haynes)
Andrew Bovell's early play Speaking in Tongues was a delight and he returns to the UK with When the Rain Stops Falling, a complex tale of family history which trips in and out of the years between 1959 and the futuristic 2039 where incidentally fish are extinct. It is one of these plays which it is near impossible to review without revealing its central shameful revelation.

The rain is torrential in 2039 and there is commotion as everyone scurries about trying to keep dry with umbrellas, Gabriel York screams and a fish, a large salmon falls out of the sky. The play opens with Richard Hope as Gabriel York tenderly awaiting a visit from his grown up son Andrew Price (Sargon Yelda). On the telephone, Gabriel agrees to see Andrew, whom he hasn't seen for twenty five years, and then the doubts set in. It is in these serial reflections that Bovell's writing is at its strongest as he gets close to real thought patterns that dart around in your head. The play closes with the fond but nervous reunion of father and son.

In between is a family story where fathers leave their families in a sort of genetically inherited pattern of abandonment or accidental separation. Many of the characters are played by two actors who are their older and younger self as their stories pan out. In 1988 Gabriel Law (Tom Mison) goes to the Coorong on the southern coast of Australia in search of his father who sent seven postcards from Australia twenty nine years before, the last one from Ayers Rock now known as Uluru, and then silence. In one of these coincidences, he meets a girl who shares his name, Gabrielle York (Naomi Bentley) who is lonely and who can cast light on what happened to his father as she relates her own family tragedy. Her mother drowned herself and her father shot himself three years ago.

Back to London in the 1950s Lisa Dillon as Elizabeth Law, Gabriel Law's mother is frustrated by her marriage to Henry Law (Jonathan Cullen). Just before he goes to Australia in search of his father, Gabriel visits his alcoholic mother, now aged and played by Phoebe Nicholls for information about the disappearance of his father. Note that Phoebe Nicholls and Lisa Dillon bear no resemblance to each other. In 2013 in Adelaide we see the grown up Gabrielle (Leah Purcell) with her now husband Joe Ryan (Simon Burke) and it is Gabrielle's son who is the expectant father in the first scene in 2039. Joe meets Gabrielle after he pulls her out of a car crash where she is the only survivor.

The ensemble performances are fine but some of the scenes where they eat fish soup uninspiring as I feel Bovell has relied too much on his central theme of Saturn, the father devouring his own children for the play to genuinely resonate. Memorably Phoebe Nicholls sits and watches as her younger self Lisa Dillon has her husband's secret exposed. I know that many in Australia trace their family history with determination and skill but does this process really tell us who we are? At two hours without an interval I felt in need of a break in order to digest the themes of Bovell's play.

When the Rain Stops Falling
Written by Andrew Bovell
Directed by Michael Attenborough

Starring: Richard Hope, Lisa Dillon, Phoebe Nicholls
With: Tom Mison, Jonathan Cullen, Simon Burke, Leah Purcell, Naomi Bentley, Sargon Yelda
Design: Miriam Buether
Lighting: Colin Grenfell
Sound: Paul Arditti
Musical Director: Stephen Warbeck
Movement: Imogen Knight
Running time: Two hours without an interval
Box Office: 020 7359 4404
Booking to 4th July 2009
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 22nd May 2009 performance at the Almeida, Upper Street, London N1 (Tube: The Angel Islington)

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