Three Days of Rain at the Donmar Warehouse

So rich and resonant is Three Days of Rain that you suspect it might originally have been intended as a novel or screenplay. There is no doubt that Richard Greenberg's compelling family drama would have lent itself to whichever form he'd set his mind to.

The prosaic title refers to a typical entry in the diary of recently deceased Ned Janeway, a celebrated American architect. His neurotic drop-out son Walker (Colin Firth) is hoping to inherit the family home - a world-renowned architectural masterpiece designed by Ned and his former partner, Theo - but it's the emotional legacy he should be worrying about.

Having avoided his father's funeral, Walker has finally turned up in New York to confront his exasperated sister Nan (Elizabeth McGovern), and Theo's son Pip (David Morrissey), an actor in TV soaps and an old flame of Nan's. The three quarrel, make up, fondly recall the past and bemoan the present.

After the interval, we retreat thirty years to meet the previous generation - Ned and Theo (played by Firth and Morrissey), and Lina (McGovern), the quick-witted, hard-drinking lover of both men, who combines the brittleness of Katherine Hepburn with the vulnerability of Blanche Dubois. What we learn about those 'three days of rain' makes it clear that this was some kind of understated metaphor for a time of turmoil in the lives of Ned and Theo. Slowly, you begin to understand how the sins of the fathers have been visited on their luckless children.

Greenberg may sometimes appear to indulge his obvious gift for one-liners, but they are usually consistent with the character speaking them and, as the play develops, any early flashiness gives way to solid story-telling and intelligent exposition.

Robin LeFevre's production is cannily understated, allowing three exceptionally strong performances to carry the full force of the text. These are roles that any actor hungry for a challenge would give his or her eye teeth for. Firth, Morrissey and McGovern do not disappoint.

Now that the Donmar's boss, Sam Mendes, has emerged as one of the hottest young directors in the States, perhaps we can expect a film version of Three Days of Rain before too long. If so, Mendes would be well advised to retain this tremendous trio.

Nick Smurthwaite