'When the Rain Stops Falling'

A rich collaboration from theatermakers working in peak form.

A rich collaboration from theatermakers working in peak form, “When the Rain Stops Falling” is a neatly cascading family saga that spans four generations in England and Australia between 1959 and 2039. Picked up from South Australian troupe Brink by Sydney Theater Company toppers Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton for their 2009 debut season, this new play by “Lantana” scribe Andrew Bovell, developed in collaboration with visual artist Hossein Valamanesh, is reminiscent of a Peter Greenaway or Robert Lepage staging in its painterly configuration and hypnotic pacing. Sydney premiere precedes a separate production bowing May 21 at London’s Almeida Theater.

Two interwoven families bare scars from pain inflicted in previous generations in a story that begins with a reunion between a son and his father in a dingy flat in desert town Alice Springs in 2039. To understand why these men have to work so hard to get to know each other over a plain meal of baked fish, the play switches quickly to another small flat in 1960s London, where cracks are appearing in the apparently happy marriage of Elizabeth and Henry Law.

Over the play’s uninterrupted 2¼ hours (an intermission would break the drama’s spell), Bovell’s script takes the audience back and forth among this miserable London life, a cafe in the harsh Coorong region of Australia’s south coast, another small flat in Adelaide and then to Alice Springs, showing various members of the two families at times of quiet crisis, the causes of which are gradually revealed.

“When the Rain Stops Falling” confirms Bovell as a writer of exceptional talent, but the key to this play’s success is its creative collaboration.

Niklas Pajanti’s precise lighting, Quentin Grant’s delicate score and piano accompaniment, and Valamanesh’s ever-shifting sets of video projections, sparse kitchen furniture and a perfectly cut curtain sculpture of iconic Oz rock formation Uluru, render this one of the most arresting productions of the past decade in Australian theater.

The play premiered successfully at the 2008 Adelaide Festival of the Arts, boosted by Chris Drummond’s deft direction and the cast’s assured delivery. Doubling thesps Neil Pigot and Yalin Ozucelik as father and son, a generation removed, is a poignant though initially misleading device, a slight quirk in an otherwise mesmerizing piece.

When the Rain Stops Falling

Sydney Opera House Drama Theater; 539 seats; $A85 $66 top

Production

A Sydney Theater Company presentation of the Brink production of a play in one act by Andrew Bovell in collaboration with Hossein Valamanesh. Producer, Kay Jamieson. Directed by Chris Drummond.

Creative

Set and costumes, Valamanesh; lighting, Niklas Pajanti; original music, Quentin Grant; video, Theima Gen. Opened May 11, 2009. Reviewed May 18. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.

Cast

With: Neil Pigot, Carmel Johnson, Anna Lise Phillips, Paul Blackwell, Kris McQuade, Michaela Cantwell, Yalin Ozucelik.
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