Tuesday 9 July 2019

I Hope It's Not Raining In London - Theatre Review

What: I Hope It's Not Raining In London
When: 8 - 13 July 2019
Where: Upstairs, The Butterfly Club
Written by: Nicholas Thoroughgood
Directed by: Riley McLean
Performed by: Daniel Cottier, Cassie Hamilton, Nicholas Thoroughgood, and Zoe Walker
Cassie Hamilton and Nicholas Thoroughgood
It seems playwrights are getting all existential again a century after the first time around. In a world leaning more and more into proto-fascism it is not surprising, I suppose, that artists are once more questioning meaning and purpose in life. The latest - and very worthy - production to worship at the feet of Beckett is I Hope It's Not Raining In London playing at The Butterfly Club this week.

A rash of plays have come onto Melbourne stages over the last year or so which espouse a lineage to the Absurdists of the 20th Century - Q, Two Animals, and most recently Two On The Night Train for example. As the latest entry into this arena, I Hope It's Not Raining In London is one of the more successful attempts and is quite a thrilling hour of theatre.

Unsurprisingly, Thoroughgood found himself inspired by Waiting For Godot, and this play began as a 2-hander. All of the publicity talks about it in this manner - 2 characters, One and Other, who find themselves in a room. They have no memory but boxes keep appearing and they slowing piece together memory fragments as the play progresses. In this regard it is perhaps more of a reference to Act Without Words - except that it has words of course.

The four cast are meant to rotate through the two roles randomly across the season which is quite clever. On opening night in Melbourne Cottier was playing One and Thoroughgood was playing Other. I assume the play has evolved over the course of the tour though, because both Hamilton and Walker performed in cameos of mothers and girlfriend which makes the play more logical but takes it way off track as an absurdist work.

Having said that, in this configuration the casting is gender normative which settles the text and action too firmly in realism. In other rotations, and assuming the text (which has a male gender bias for One and Other and a female bias for the rest of the characters) doesn't change, the whole thing might unsettle into an intriguing world of discognition and curiosity which might be quite intriguing.

In the program notes Thoroughgood talks about his confusion with the existential aspect of Theatre of the Absurd and his confusion about Nihilism versus Existentialism. His intention was to explore both in I Hope It's Not Raining In London. He does, however, also speak of the realism and authenticity of the acting and this is where the style has gone wrong and why it comes across as a realist non-linear narration dressed in an existential overcoat.

An essential element of Theatre of the Absurd is to also question the existentiality of language. Thoroughgood has not played in this arena. He uses proper words, sentence structure and dramatic action and the two main characters find a trajectory rather than just being lost in a loop.

Do not take this detour as any kind of indication that I Hope It's Not Raining In London is not a great piece of theatre. The acting is wonderful overall and Thoroughgood is an incredibly dynamic actor. Between that and McLean's clever and, at times, shocking staging the show becomes confrontingly visceral. Trigger warning: This show contains graphic replications of self-harm! And blood. Lots and lots of (fake) blood.

I Hope It's Not Raining In London is a fascinating tale of two people (men?) who are trying to work out who they are, where they are, and why they are there. Their journeys are at different stages. One has been searching longer than Other, but does his experience help or hinder Other in his quest and does Other's arrival move One further along his path or drag him backwards? These are the questions which can only be answered if you enter the room with them at The Butterfly Club.

4 Stars

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