Pros: A really nice change to see something slightly more serious coming from Above the Stag, and this show covers issues which are important to the gay rights movement.
Cons: Occasionally, some of the acting felt a little hammy and, considering the subject matter, the play wasn’t quite hard hitting enough.
A Hard Rain is the most recent, and slightly-more-serious-than-usual, play at Above the Stag. Writen by Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper, the play is set in 1960’s America on the eve of the Stonewall riots. The Stonewall riots were spontaneous and violent demonstrations by members of the gay community and are often seen as one of the most important events in the gay liberation movement. They are an important and provocative subject to tackle.
The play is set in a-mafia run gay bar which has been reopened for the umpteenth time in new location after being closed down by prejudice, fearful and corrupt cops. Bartender Angie, tenderly played by Stephanie Wilson, does her best to keep everything above board, which is not made easy when Ruby – a recently exiled Vietnam military veteran and smart talking cross dresser–refuses to sit back and stick to the status quo. Desperate to make a difference and stand up for what she believes in, she is proud to wear women’s clothes and full make up, and has a razor sharp tongue with smart remarks prepared for those who don’t approve of her. Unsurprisingly, she is quick to upset the locals.
This is an interesting story and there is some good acting amongst the cast. However many of the relationships are not believable. All the characters are great individually, but when taken as a whole, they don’t quite combine together convincingly. Michael Edwards’ Ruby has a credible southern accent and is unapologetically brazen. At first, this comes across as a little over the top, but the reason for her behaviour gradually becomes clear as Edwards cleverly and carefully reveals Ruby’s level of insecurity, which she overcompensates for with bawdy behaviour. Her slick Wall Street boyfriend Josh, played by Oliver Lynes, is also individually a good role, although he has less depth than his counterpart; however, their relationship does not quite hold up. This is also the case with the manipulative and aggressive bar owner Frank (Nigel Barber), and his destructive and truculent relationship with Jimmy (James El-Sharawy), an abused, 16-year-old street boy. Both of these characters and their disturbing relationship potentially have a lot of depth. El-Sharawy in particular gives a particularly powerful performance, but there isn’t enough time to allow this story to develop.
Overall, I do think this is another excellent production from Above the Stag, which shows that they aren’t all about the laughs and camp productions (although, from prior experience, these are fabulous). They are to be commended for bravely taking on a subject matter of great importance to many people and educating those who aren’t aware of the Stonewall riots. This is an admirable and thought-provoking production which, with an increased length and some additional story development, could truly be a wonderful show.