Katherine Chandler’s Before it Rains, marking the first ever collaboration between Bristol Old Vic and Cardiff’s Sherman Cymru, is the rather bleak season opener in BOV’s Studio space.
Set in a down-at-heel Cardiff council estate the play explores the struggles of single mum, heavy drinking, goodtime loving Gloria, to raise and keep safe her autistic son Michael, surrounded by the pressures and hostilities of modern day city life. When a new family move into the neighbourhood, antisocial behaviour explodes into gratuitous acts of violence and Michael’s ordered world is torn apart when he meets one of the boys, the near feral Carl.
Michael, who has lacked the influence of a father figure, and Carl, who, along with his older brother, has been raised by a violent and abusive father, and has not known the tenderness of a mother’s love, are very clearly drawn products of their upbringings. However, this story does not attempt to offer any excuses or seek any answers to the social problems, merely shines a torch on them and, after 90 minutes of sharing in dark and desolate thought, investing in the lives and motivation of the lead characters, the lack of any definite message is unsatisfying.
However, where the story itself may be unrewarding, not so the performances. Craig Gazey is startling, with a sharp and sensitive portrayal of Michael, while Lisa Palfrey is utterly convincing as Gloria, and Harry Ferrier’s Carl is both brutal and vulnerable in turn.
Alyson Cummins uses every inch of available space in the studio to create a dark, brooding and intimidating council estate feel, complemented by Paul Keogan’s atmospheric lighting, and sharp direction by Roisin McBrinn keeps the audience tightly wound throughout.
Before it Rains is frustrating for those of us who search for some reason or hope in the darkest situations, but is thought-provoking and does elicit a range of emotions which is after all what theatre is about. And Craig Gazey’s performance alone makes it worth catching this production.
Before It Rains runs at the Bristol Old Vic Studio until 22 September