…in which I invite someone bookish to share one of their all-time favourite works of fiction and what it means to them. This week’s Friday Fave comes from playwright Vivienne Glance:
I have long been interested in how ideas about science and scientific concepts are portrayed in performance and in other literary texts. So, I was intrigued when I heard about the first production in 2008 of Andrew Bovell’s play, When the Rain Stops Falling. On the surface, this play is about climate change, but it is also about much more. It moves backwards and forwards in time, into the future as well as the past, and weaves a complex pattern of inter-personal relationships that resonate through the years.
Before I tell you why this play is my current favourite, I should mention that as well as being a playwright, performer and theatre audience member, I am also an avid reader of plays. Even though a play script is not the same as seeing a performance, a well-produced, published text can give just enough of an idea of the staging of the production, it can be a wonderfully unique way to experience theatre.
The play opens with a non-verbal montage of a man standing in the rain holding an umbrella as people rush past him. He screams and nearby an older woman falls onto her knees. Then a fish falls from the sky and lands at his feet. This opening visual lets the reader/audience know that they are going to see something unusual. It also sets up metaphors and images that are repeated and reflected throughout the play. Following this, we learn that the man, Gabriel York, lives in Alice Springs in a future where there is a risk that torrential rains will flood this area, and that the price of a single fish would equal a year’s salary.
From this attention-grabbing and intriguing start the play then sets up the characters and their intersecting relationships through an initial monologue followed by dialogues. And that is dialogue in the literal sense of the word – each scene consists only of two people speaking to each other in a play with a cast of nine. However, this device serves well to develop the characters’ relationships; each moment is private and intimate and allows them to reveal themselves to each other. The pattern is interrupted occasionally by further non-verbal, choreographed actions that delightfully bring characters from the past, present and future together, and by scene transitions that overlap like a crossfade, slipping between place and time. These transitions condense time and help to link characters to each other and to their younger/older selves and it is this structure that opens up a space for contemplation, as poetry does. And again like poetry, the rhythm, repetition and imagery move the play forward and reveal the stories of the characters’ lives, whilst leavimg enough space for the reader/audience to enter in with their own experiences. It is this skilful and poetic movement of the story, achieved so elegantly by Andrew Bovell, that makes this play one of my current favourites. This structural technique also highlights one of the key themes of the play: that our actions in the past will resonate into the future, not only for our relationships, but for the environment, whether someone is a climate change advocate or a climate change sceptic.
There is very little actual science discussed or referred to, so as such, When the Rain Stops Falling could not be really called a ‘science play’. The play attempts more to suggest how fragile and changeable the weather and climate are, and how certain events in one place can have catastrophic consequences somewhere else. It is through these links across time that the consequences of climate change are engaged with, rather than the actual science, and this is enhanced by the over-arching motif of rain. And like the woman in the opening scene, and like the tears, hopes, and relationships of these characters, it keeps falling down.
But this is also a hopeful play. Gabriel York’s opening monologue reveals he abandoned his young son and the child’s mother many years ago. Now, Andrew, his twenty-eight-year-old son, has made contact with him and wants to visit. The closing scene brings a muted understanding between father and son, if not completed reconciliation. And then, with every character on stage, each in their own time and place, the rain stops falling.
Vivienne’s full length and short plays have been produced in London, Edinburgh, Seattle, Sydney, and Perth. Her recent production, The Cat in the Box played to full houses at the Blue Room Theatre in Perth. Awarded a WA Playwrights Development Initiative Award in 2012, she took up a writing residency in London with The Arts Catalyst. In September this year she is travelling to Merredin in WA’s wheat belt for a 3-weeks Stages residency with the Cummins Theatre. Vivienne is also an actor, theatre director and a published poet.