A co-production between Bristol Old Vic and Sherman Cymru, Before It Rains by Katherine Chandler is a foreboding new play about the hardships of a tough upbringing on a rough Cardiff housing estate. Menace is mixed with malice, as just three characters – a woman, her son, and the new boy on the estate – push each others’ boundaries to unexpected and uncomfortable limits.
Gloria (Lisa Palfrey, right), longing for fun and a bit too fond of the bottle, and her son Michael (Craig Gazey), an Asperger sufferer, pass their time arguing in their front garden, on the studio set designed by Alyson Cummins represented with a pile of real earth. Their new neighbour Carl, played by a spine-tinglingly creepy Harry Ferrier, is the menacing product of a violent childhood.
The performance sustains a tense atmosphere from the first sound of Carl bouncing his football in scene one until the last image of Michael and his mother back in their garden.
Split into three sections, including a balcony, Paul Keogan’s lighting provides visual depth. The use of ropes and scaffolding adds to the deprived nature of the setting, and doubles as a tree in the second act; while the natural earthy set of the main stage is juxtaposed with the bare, grey balcony.
The stark contrast between the concrete alleyway and constantly changing allotment echoes the characters’ relationships, as happy-go-lucky Gloria only ever appears on the earth, whereas unhinged Carl lurks mainly in the concrete, dead area of the stage.
As the trio’s moral compasses slowly skew off course, all three actors step up a gear, with Gazey in particular mesmerising in his portrayal of the sensitive soul who is easily swayed by the two strong influences on his life pulling him in conflicting directions.
Each character fulfils their various breakdowns believably, and the chemistry between the actors draws the audience to feel their raw emotions in a poignant production which skilfully expresses the animalistic and morbid qualities of a wretchedly hard life.
Review by Jo Holloway
Before It Rains is at the Bristol Old Vic studio until September 22. Click here for more.