A fractured fall

When The Rain Stops Falling (That Production Company)

Studio 188

April 21 – 30

Acclaimed Australian writer Andrew Bovell (“Lantana”)’s story, “When The Rain Stops Falling” takes place between two worlds in time and place, between a prediction in 1959 and its outcome eighty years later, through the interconnected stories of two families over four generations. It is, accordingly, at times quite heavy going, especially given its lengthy running time of 2 hours without intermission (longer that its advertised duration), but worth the investment for its haunting experience.

The show intriguingly begins in Alice Springs in the year 2039 with a fish falling from the sky to land at the feet of lonely Gabriel York (David Patterson). It still smells of the sea and he knows something is wrong. Although this sets the scene for the motifs to follow, including the rain the falls in virtually every scene, the opening 15 minute monologue drags with the weight of prolonged pauses and repetitious dialogue.

What Gabriel doesn’t realise is that 80 years prior, his grandfather, Henry Law (also played by David Paterson), predicted that fish will fall from the sky heralding a great flood which will end life on earth as we know it. In between the two generations lives Gabriel Law (Eamonn Clohesy) who leaves London for Australia, in attempt to retrace his father’s footsteps and understand the mystery of his disappearance from his childhood life (with help from cryptic, recently-discovered postcard communication) only to fall for a haunted and vulnerable roadhouse employee, Gabrielle (Lauren Roche).

So complicated is the interconnectivity to initially decipher, that audiences members need to rely on the projected scene subtitles as to setting in time and place. Indeed, it takes until at least 45 minutes into the production to fully appreciated the cleverness of the work beyond just its coincidences and recurrences, down to the most mundane of motifs as, across the generations, fish soup is prepared and served while characters make small-talkish jokes about the weather.

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From a design perspective, the transitions between stories are beautifully realised. A rotating outer circle borders the central stage action, rotating to indicate scene changes and allowing for seamless transitions and clarity when characters from different eras and different selves of the same character sometimes share the stage. The choreography of characters into an initial full family tableau as they silently share in soup around the table is impressive in its intricacy and to see it replicated in the work’s conclusion provides an arresting, yet touching visual resonance of its ultimately intimate themes.

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Beautiful visuals aside, “When The Rain Stops Falling” is a confronting, unsettling experience, filled as its story is with unpleasant plot twists. Its characters are not always likeable, however, its shocking twists and moments of sadness are made more palpable particularly through the performances of Nicola Stewart and Rachel Hunt, as different generations of Gabriel’s brittle mother Elizabeth and Lisa Hickey as an older Gabrielle, just as fierce as her former self despite her mental deterioration.

all women

Although fractured, it is a compelling narrative as progressive revelation is made of how the characters have become themselves, meaning that its conclusion that we all exist as a collection of our pasts appears as superfluous in an already-long work that could comfortably have ended a number of times over. While it is certainly a complicated story “When The Rain Stops Falling” is an at-times grippingly powerful and original dramatic experience in its epic examination of mortality, legacy and the connections at the essence of humanity, which will linger long after leaving.

Excellence beyond doubt

Doubt: A Parable (That Production Company)

Studio 188

December 3 – 12

“What do you do when you’re not sure?” …. The initial words of “Doubt: A Parable” are shared as part of a sermon about the notion, however, their speaker, Father Flynn (James Trigg) could just have as easily have been talking directly to the audience about the conundrum at the centre of the show itself, filled as it is with contemplative notions to linger long after its experience.

This is the power of “Doubt: A Parable”, John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatic exploration of the idea of certainly verses ambiguity and the lengths that we should go to in support of what we believe is right. They are themes with modern resonance, untempered by audience disassociation from its context of a 1964 civil rights America still reeling from the assassination of President Kennedy, as the work also taps into fears of fundamentalist intolerance corruption and clerical abuse of authority.

At the St. Nicholas Church School in the Bronx, the Sisters of Charity teach children under the watchful eye of Sister Aloysius (Rachel Hunt) whose unflinching demeanour keeps everyone on the straight and narrow. When a number of dubious events raise her suspicions, she wastes no time in cornering her respected and much-loved parish priest superior and convincing the innocent Sister James (Lauren Roche) of his guilt at having an indecent relationship with the working class Irish and Italian school’s token black student, Donald Muller.

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Having once again chosen a robust work, That Production Company more than does justice to its stellar script. The small cast all are measured in performance, in manner that suits the text. As Mrs Muller, Asabi Goodman is heartfelt in reflection that the Father is her son’s only friend, engaging audience empathy in her controversial acceptance of any relationship if only to keep him in school because ‘maybe the Father is doing some good too’.

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Roche’s performance as Sister James, is perfectly paced – diminutive in response to her superior’s determination to bring down the father with or without her help and reflective in her desire to never have become involved. Commanding the stage, however, Trigg conveys an immediately likeability that makes it easy to imagine his affinity with the (unseen) children, yet is simultaneously so convincing in role as a Irish man of the cloth that you almost fine yourself making sacramental sign of the cross along with him at sermons ends.

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However, it is Hunt who gives the most astounding performance as the widowed Sister Aloysius, initially an almost quaint, nostalgic relic of a society since passed and ultimately bitter and unsympathetic. Her performance is controlled to the finest of details of reaction to the use of ballpoint pens and condemnation of Christmas pageant music, always conveying an unwavering self-righteousness in her modulated delivery of biting dialogue and so sanctimonious as to make you want to slap her as, like Shakespeare’s Iago, she pours pestilence into the ear of the young Sister James with suggestions such as “they look smug, like they have a secret.” Far from progressive in her approach as Convent Principal, she presents as a perfect antagonist to the vibrant popular parish priest in her personal crusade for his removal and their final, passionate confrontation showcases a masterful performance from them both.

Staging is simple and effective, thanks to clever design to open up the space through the creation of faux walls, and good use is made of it, even down to entrances and exits, which is of greater importance for a work with so little stage action. So snappy is its dialogue though, that its running time flies in a flurry of changed audience opinion as to who might be right.

Although it certainly stands a show in good stead, solid source material can be no guarantee of excellence. In this instance, however, it is supplemented by the company’s respect for the work’s integrity that makes it well worth an Ipswich trip. With little doubt, That Production Company is a company to watch, thanks to their quietly ambitious show choices that continue to impress.

Photos c/o –  LeAnne Vincent Photography