1 March 2016

A Steady Rain at the Arcola Theatre was taut, brutal and gripping

The Arcola is one of my few regular theatres but there are lots of theatres and not many evenings so I do not automatically see everything that is on, there still has to be something to entice me.

A Steady Rain came with the writing credentials of Keith Huff who wrote for House of Cards and Mad Men which I did not know that well but I knew that they both had excellent reputations. It also helped that the original production starred Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig who were unlikely to have chosen to work in anything poor or even just ordinary.

I had got used to the Arcola moving from free seating to allocated seating and had booked my seat in good time, so good that I got favoured seat A14 in the middle of the front row of the small block of seats at the front of the stage for a ridiculously cheap £19. I am not sure what their pricing policy is but that price seems too low to me; the Arcola is not a pub theatre.

One thing the Arcola definitely gets right is the front of house stuff and a easily filled the hour before the performance with some hot food, a coffee and then a beer. I had the Hot Stew Pot, served with 3 risotto balls, organic pearl barley and mild chutney, which was another bargain at £5.25. The beer was more reassuringly expensive at £4.80 for something crafty from somewhere local.

We entered the theatre to find a dark stage, the assistants had torches to show people to their seats like cinemas used to, with one man sitting on a chair and another standing by the water cooler. at the back. It started dark and moody and stayed like that.

The two men were middle aged police officers who had been friends since childhood. One was going through hard times and was living with the other and his family. They were hard cops in a hard city. They bent the rules a bit, quite a bit at times, but they were still the good guys.

Then one of them got mixed up with a prostitute and a pimp and their battle against criminals intruded into his private life and the battle became a lot more personal. And tense. And brutal.

The presentation matched the story in its tension and brutality. The men spoke slowly, carefully and with menace. Tap shoes and the metal table were used to produce the sounds of gunfire. The lights shone dimly.

There was a moment of relief in the middle when the interval allowed me out into the light and to get another beer. Then it was back underground for another hour or so of some of the most immersive and effective theatre that I have ever seen. It was astonishingly good.

For once I have no hesitation in citing the whole cast for excellence. Vincent Regan and David Schaal were both perfect.

The story was told as if in a book with the men wither talking to each other as colleagues or to us as narrators. Again I found that to be a very effective technique and far better that inventing artificial dialogue to fill in the gaps in the story. Saying things like, "Do not forget the time when we ..." is not what normal people say when they both clearly do remember the time when one saved the life of the other, or whatever.

A Steady Rain was powerful and gripping and left me feeling that I had just witnessed something extraordinary. There is a high bar for what I call good theatre and this sailed well above that.

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