A Steady Rain, Burgess Hill Theatre Club
They couldn’t do it on Broadway, and it never quite came off in Brighton.
But Burgess Hill Theatre Club managed to cleverly get something on stage where others had failed.
It was rain, and plenty of it. No, the roof of the little theatre in Church Walk had not sprung a leak. It was director Sean Lippett-Fall getting his wish for a constant shower to add atmosphere to a gripping production of Keith Huff’s dark Chicago cop caper A Steady Rain.
For this ‘two-hander’ water dripped constantly on to the duo of stoic and mostly static actors on a specially created stage and was recycled to maintain a steady flow.
So take an early bow set constructors Gary Simmonds, Richard Bentley, Jack Brown and Graham Wood. Not forgetting stage manager Rob Thomas who wielded a mop like a hurling player to clear any spillage.
The incessant soaking might have proved to be a distracting gimmick, but it worked beautifully.
That was down to riveting performances by Ben Pritchard as police officer Joey and Culann Smyth as his doomed precinct sidekick Denny. Forget the rain, you could not take your eyes off these two.
Never mind the overhead shower, there was a veritable torrent of words from this verbally fencing duo in this gritty and highly personal drama, not always for the squeamish.
Shafts of barbed wit occasionally lightened the proceedings as the true essence of friendship was tested to its violent limit.
Forceful Smyth ensured Denny always seethed with anger control problems and a strong overdose of macho man in his make-up. He created a volcano always on the edge of eruption, creating tension and holding attention superbly. His final breakdown when his spirit dripped from him was a masterful piece of acting at any level.
The pair delivered their almost word-perfect narrative, jibes and expressions of loyalty superbly in either call and response dialogue or strongly projected monologue.
The more genial Joey was perfectly bottled by Pritchard as a big man with an even larger drink problem who fell dangerously in love with raging Denny’s wife. A most unwise thing to be doing as Damon Runyan might have said. Just asking for one of Denny’s roundhouse sidewinders.
The story centred on the disastrous mistake of the two cops and lifelong friends in handing back a vulnerable Vietnamese boy to a man who proved to be a cannibal. “Fried by the press”, as demented Denny put it, “We should know the eyes of a demon when we see one.”
Some excellent sound effects created an atmosphere of a city and references to the Beatles’ ‘I Am The Walrus’ and TV cops Starsky and Hutch gave the audience a ’60s timeline, with recorded music by brass-rock outfit Chicago Transit Authority and some blues setting the mood.
Memorable acting by Pritchard and Smyth and the plumbing of the backstage crew delivered a classic theatre noir performance.
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