Biilled as a dark duologue between two Chicago policemen and you would be forgiven for thinking that A Steady Rain might be categorised as 'niche' theatre. In a stripped back stage with two chairs and some empty beer cans and bottles, the audience first experiences the steady rain from the title, as it rains throughout: it is literally a curtain of rain which even makes the air moist.
The tension mounts in almost an unbearable yet beautiful way
The script is flawless. The central two characters are hard-bitten, down to earth, not-so-nice cops, and yet the craft of their performance means that you feel sympathy towards them. You can't help but feel for Denny, with his strong family values, even in light of the way that he carries these out. Despite his protestations, Joey, the loner, wants the family life that Denny has...even down to the dog. Of course, it's far more complicated than that and the script is absolutely packed. Writer Keith Huff knows exactly when to tell the detail of an individual story, even the conflicting detail of each of the two in the same story, and when to move ahead with less. The two cops swear a lot, but some of the writing is as rich as poetry and it still works, such as when Denny describes pimps as having a smell of 'moral rot'.
The director Sean Lippett-Fall should be congratulated, especially on the staging and setting, keeping it stripped back and letting the story tell itself. The actors, Culann Smyth and Ben Pritchard, embody the characters. Their accents are perfect and you completely believe they are who they portray. They hold the tension beautifully, at no time overplaying their characters. They are simply honest and truthful to the unfolding tale. This is an acting masterclass, a tour de force, quite simply brilliant.
Denny steps forward through the curtain of rain throughout the first three quarters of the play, with Joey behind the curtain. The moment when Joey eventually smashes through and stands in front, while Denny moves behind, is an incredible yet subtle metaphor for who they are and their story arc through the play. Rain accompanies their individual stories, their arguments, their fights. It pervades their personalities, acting like an oppressive force. When the rain suddenly stops, the audience feels it palpably. The sudden quiet almost a sense of the sun coming out.
This show is about two Chicago cops, friendship since kindergarten, human frailty, mistakes, and what harm anger, intolerance and lack of patience can do. There are several moments in the play where the audience holds their breath, the tension mounts in almost an unbearable, yet beautiful way. There is the realisation that falls on the audience like drops of rain, that things in this story are not going to end in a rosy way, but it is always surprising, in a natural way that never seems forced.
This is an exceptionally good piece of theatre. A rare moment of absolute privilege and honour to experience such masterful storytelling, when you know you have witnessed something truly special.