Philip Larkin may have said it most succinctly in This Be The Verse: “They f**k you up your Mum and Dad / they may not mean to but they do”. The idea of vices and issues, choices and decisions passed from one generation to another resonates throughout Andrew Bovell’s century-spanning drama When The Rain Stops Falling.
A tale of four generations of one family, it flits between countries and time zones from 2039 Alice Springs to 1960s London, as events and issues slot together like a jigsaw puzzle to create a fuller picture of the family’s troubled lives. From one generation to the next there are more reflections and echoes than you would find in a mirrored valley, from recurring meals to life-defining tendencies which, years apart, appear and reappear in the male members of the family.
When the play begins, this can be a touch confusing, especially when periods and characters overlap and meld into one, but as the play progresses and Michael Attenborough’s fluid direction comes to the fore, the characters set their own boundaries and become more defined, while simultaneously becoming one with each other. Sounds odd, sounds impossible, I agree, yet it works.
The strength of the ensemble cast – fast becoming a tradition for the Almeida theatre – clearly helps, as does Bovell’s dialogue which ranges from controlled, clipped English to the dry, blunt wit of the Antipodes, via some rather beautiful and symbol-laden poetic descriptions.
I could break the play down piece by piece, but doing so, like focusing on just one generation of this family, would be an injustice and not give anywhere near the full picture. In fact, it is somewhat like a theatrical trifle, each layer rich and moreish, enjoyable when separated out, yet even better when they overlap, mix and become indistinguishable.