Here co-artistic director of Paines Plough James Grieve and author Penelope Skinner talk about The Sound of Heavy Rain, one of the three shows that are part of the Roundabout Season, which is a detective story following a personal investigator's search for a missing cabaret singer.
James Grieve: Paines Plough's Roundabout Auditorium is a miniature in-the-round theatre that flat packs into a lorry and pops up around the country. The auditorium has its own lighting rig and sound system so production values can be perfectly re-created whether the auditorium sits in a theatre or a sports centre. Roundabout tours with an ensemble of actors performing a repertory of three new plays.
Penelope Skinner: When Paines Plough approached me to write for the Roundabout, the other two plays in the repertory had already been chosen. One Day When We Were Young by Nick Payne and Lungs by Duncan Macmillan are both two-handers, so the commission was to write a third play written specifically for the space and for all four actors in the company: two male, two female, all in their late twenties or early thirties. I had written with particular theatres in mind before, but never such a specific commission.
When I said yes, I don’t think I realised how much of a challenge it would be. Usually I start writing with a story in mind, characters begin to form around a central idea, sometimes an image or a piece of music, sometimes a feeling, and gradually events emerge and the structure of the play begins to build around those quite vague abstract elements. My first focus is on the story, not the ‘space’ or how old the characters will be. Even if you know what theatre you hope you are writing for, the specific staging won’t usually be decided until the director and the designer get together to discuss it.
The result of all this was that it made the formation of this particular story a kind of backwards exercise for me. I feel about this play what you might feel about some kind of strange discovery that you made while trying to invent something else. I don’t quite understand how it happened in the way that it did, or why, but I’m glad it exists, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to write something for such a unique project.
James Grieve: The Sound of Heavy Rain follows Dabrowski PI as he searches for the missing cabaret singer Foxie O'Hara. It's a detective story, influenced in its form by classic film noir. The play has multiple locations and jumps in time, and lots of characters, so the challenge to the production team has been to make a very intimate space seem epic, switching between the streets of London and nightclubs, offices and even a lift. We've used every inch of the Roundabout Auditorium in the production with actors hidden in vomitories and appearing at the top of staircases, so the theatre itself becomes the world of the play. And it’s been a wonderful challenge creating a film noir aesthetic in the round – chiaroscuro lighting, lots of haze, the sense of the all pervasive city around us.