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A review by Vanessa Bunn for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

 

 

 

Above the Stag Theatre presents

by Jon Bradfield & Martin Hooper

Director – Tricia Thorns

Designer – David Shields

Lighting Designer – Elliot Griggs

Sound Designer – James El-Sharawy

 

Above The Stag Theatre

 

26 February – 30 March 2014

 

In a mafia-owned Greenwich Village gay bar in the run up to the Stonewall Riots of 1969, an immensely divergent cast of characters negotiate their way through constrained social circumstances and myriad personal issues through bickering, sex, dancing, laughing and drinking bootlegged liquor. Ruby (Michael Edwards) is a vivacious ex-soldier with a penchant for excess. Josh (Oliver Lynes) is his conflicted but sincere businessman boyfriend. Straight-talking single mother Angie (Stephanie Willson) is Ruby’s closest confidante and works at the bar for Frank (Nigel Barber), a smooth closeted mafia-man. Angie dates Danny, (Rhys Jennings) a crooked and prejudiced but infuriatingly endearing cop. And street kid Jimmy (James El-Sharawy) forces his way into everyone’s affections when his filthy mouth and brazenness find him extending his services to Frank beyond the bed in his office.

The soundtrack is resolutely of the time with Marvin Gaye, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan forming the aural backdrop to sporadic dancing and Ruby’s occasional turns at singing at the bar. We learn that Disney’s The Jungle Book has just finished showing at the cinema, much to ardent fan Danny’s chagrin. Envelopes pass between Frank and Danny to ensure police presence remains unfelt at the club while tremors from Ruby’s year in the Vietnam war resonate through his performance. A particularly sobering scene opens act two and illuminates the circumstances around his departure. Set changes are perhaps a little too frequent but a series of shifts and turns finds us variously in the bar, Frank’s office, Angie’s living room, Ruby’s dilapidated studio and the street.

A Hard Rain explores the causes and effects of repression and marginalisation. Josh, while clearly besotted with Ruby feels forced to ask Angie to stand in as a potential date at a work-event and beside him in a picture to send to his parents. Danny is blatantly full of heart but has been moulded by his upbringing and police training into an insistence that anything subversive should be covered up, if not necessarily stopped. His attitude is countered by repeated challenges from Angie and her refreshing live and let live attitude. When he comments on the dangers of ‘queers on her doorstep’, especially as she has a kid, she candidly points out that the mafia on her doorstep and the cops in their pockets pose a more legitimate concern.

An urge for confrontation and progression exhibited by Ruby and Jimmy is counteracted by passivity and fear from Danny and Josh and their insurmountable reluctance to break with any accepted norms. While Angie appears to scoff at convention and is unruffled about being embroiled in a criminal underworld, it transpires that she longs for a day-job in a café so she can devote her spare time to her son, the unseen Benji.  Ruby, ostensibly non-committal and whimsical, is often visibly hurt by the fact that he cannot be in a conventional relationship with Josh. Frank, the villain of the piece, is gradually exposed as an insecure Daddy’s boy struggling for validation and terrified of being seen as a soft touch, a quest for paternal recognition apparently motivating his actions.

Heated and colourful exchanges and constant squabbling between Jimmy and Ruby, teamed with Angie’s dry observations are at the comic crux of the script. Jimmy and Angie also share some touchingly intimate interactions; “You’ve got a really big ass”, “At least it’s not my main source of income”. During an open, and what turns out to be unwise, conversation with Danny in the street Jimmy surprisingly corrects him, asserting ‘Lightyears is distance, not time’. This stands as a subtly poignant comment on the thrust of the whole play, pointing to widely held misconceptions being accepted as established fact. The often vast divide between outward appearance and emotional reality is a constant preoccupation.

The third show to run at Above The Stag Theatre since it moved to its new home in Vauxhall, A Hard Rain is a timely, provocative piece with an unflinchingly strong cast and a sharp script which slaps and tickles in equal measure.

 

 

 

Above the Stag Theatre
 Arch 17, Miles Street
London SW8 1RZ
Tickets (from 4 Mar 2014): £18
http://www.abovethestag.com/
 

 

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