Sunday, June 28, 2009

When the Rain Stops Falling

I was at the Almeida the other night, to see this remarkable Australian play by Andrew Bovell. I really enjoyed reading some earlier work of his: I got to know a piece called Holy Day back when we were working on Bullie's House, because Natasha had been in it. I've been skirting round the idea of doing a production of it ever since.... I suggested it to David Zoob as something we could do at Rose Bruford, and it nearly happened. Maybe now this play has done well at the Almeida, there's a chance to look at Holy Day again....

If that wasn't incentive enough to get across to Islington, the production features Leah Purcell, whose film, Black Chicks Talking, we included in Origins. Her trip to London to perform in this meant that she was able to come to quite a lot of the Festival, and her husband, Bain Stewart, was able to introduce the film - of which he was the Producer. I'm very interested in Leah's theatre work as something we might include in future Festivals: she is an astonishing performer, as this production bears out. She plays a woman slowly losing track of herself through Alzheimer's, and nursing a deep grief for the father of her child, who died in a car crash before the child was even born. Oh, and the child has lost touch, and her brother was murdered when he was 8, and both her parents committed suicide. I won't tell you who it turns out was the murderer, but that adds yet more to the misery. What's more, poor Leah is hobbling around the stage on a crutch, with her foot in plaster, having broken it in a backstage fall. Given all this misery, it's amazing that she manages to be very funny - but she does. In fact, it feels like a surprisingly light and witty evening, which is remarkable.

The play leaps between London and Australia, and is set variously in the 1960s, 1988, 2013 and 2039. The bits in the future are very funny, with references to the extinction of fish, the decline and fall of the American Empire, and a global catastrophe in climate. But the real subject of the play is family, and the way in which we are shaped by events in our family history of which we may have no knowledge at all. Sometimes it gets a bit "clever", as when characters from different eras speak exactly the same lines - but more often it achieves great power by simple means, for example the presence of characters on stage in an era not their own - ghosts whose presence alone makes sense of what is happening. And this is a theatrical poetry.

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