★★★ | A Hard Rain, Above The Stag
Writers Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper, well-known for their successful pantomimes at The Above The Stag Theatre, have for the first time turned their hands to drama, and this new play is the result.
A Hard Rain is set in a gay bar in New York in the days running up to the Stonewall Riots. The gay bars and clubs are run by the Mafia, who pay off a corrupt police force, which, from time to time raid the bars anyway, just to show everyone who’s boss.
This bar becomes the backdrop for the story of a disparate set of characters; the drag queen and former Vietnam soldier, Rub; the closeted mafia owner of the bar, Frank; the young single mother barmaid Angie; the kind-hearted young cop, Danny; Ruby’s young high-flying bank employee boyfriend Josh; and Jimmy, a streetwise teenager who turns tricks to make a living.
I don’t know how the collaboration between Bradfield and Harper works, whether both writers contribute to each scene, or whether each writer takes a different scene in entirety. Either way, the various individual scenes are well realised and play out very well, with a good sprinkling of witty one-liners to relieve the often gloomy nature of the scenario. The problem for me is that the various scenes did not coalesce into a coherent whole. There didn’t seem to be any direction to the narrative, no sense of it driving forward to that historic moment of the Stonewall Riots. At 90 minutes, Act One just meandered along, whereas Act II seemed rushed, as if the writers suddenly realised they had a lot of loose ends to tie up, their final point rather clumsily made. The numerous scenes meant that there were a lot of scene changes, the sheer mechanics of which continuously held up the action, hardly helping the flow, and I did wonder if the scene changes could have been simplified in some way.
Though I had reservations about the play itself, I had very few about the performances. Michael Edwards, in the central and extremely difficult role of Ruby, carefully revealed the vulnerability behind Ruby’s tough exterior. His performance was superbly seconded by a touchingly real and beautifully nuanced performance from Oliver Lynes as his boyfriend, Josh. Stephanie Willson was just perfect as the warm-hearted Angie, and James El-Sharawy a suitably cocky Jimmy, though we saw that underneath all the chutzpah, he was really just a nice kid who wanted to be liked. Neither Nigel Barber as Frank nor Rhys Jennings as Danny let the side down, though they both had less to work with, their characters less finely drawn.
Ultimately, though, what sounded like a nice idea never quite came off.
A Hard Rain plays at Above The Stag until March 30th.