Back in the 1930s, The Wind and the Rain ran for over 1000 performances in the West End. It later opened on Broadway and played in nine languages around the world. Despite this prodigious background the play has, amazingly, not been produced in London since 1939 and therefore fits neatly with the Finborough’s policy of presenting work not shown in London for at least 25 years. It kicks off their current ReDiscovered season with a flourish.
At a boarding house in Edinburgh, Charles Trittan (Joe Pitts) arrives to begin medical school. Already in place are the older Dr Duhamel (David Furlong), qualified but studying to be a Fellow, Gilbert (Mark Lawrence) who has taken five years to do two years’ coursework, preferring to drink and chase women rather than study, and Williams (Harvey Cole), more sensible, who enjoys a night out but manages to complete the work as well. They are looked after by Mrs McFie (Jenny Lee), who appears strict and dour but is actually very fond of all her lodgers.
Charles is caught between two loves: Jill (Helen Reuben), back in London, and Anne (Naomi Preston-Low), a young New Zealander he meets in Edinburgh. Jill represents the expectations of his family – or at least what Charles thinks those expectations are. Anne offers a little freedom, a chance to decide and to find love for himself. When his two worlds collide one evening, the contrast between the two women is striking. Jill is loud and outgoing, here to drink and party, Anne quiet and thoughtful.
Some elements are auto-biographical as playwright Merton Hodge was born in Aotearoa/New Zealand and went to medical school in Edinburgh. Hodge was bi-sexual and there are brief moments where the production suggests an undercurrent of tension – perhaps as much as Hodge thought he could include close to a century ago. Today it feels like there’s a slightly lost opportunity not to explore this more, especially with rumours of Hodge’s affairs being suggested in the programme and promotional material.
Director Geoffrey Beevers keeps the pace slow and steady, making for an easy, gentle evening where the strong cast’s performances elevate a sweet, simple story to one worthy of being revived. They bring their characters to life with charm, despite some roles looking relatively thin on paper. There is a clear warmth and affection conveyed between the students, even while they bicker and get on each other’s nerves.
Pitts stands out as he show Charles’ journey coming full circle, from his own naive arrival to his return years later as a qualified doctor, meeting a new student in similar circumstances. However, the broad Australian accent from Preston-Low – a British actor supposedly playing a Kiwi – is disappointing. Finborough rightly prides itself on the Aotearoa/New Zealand work produced and it would perhaps have been more appropriate here to cast a Kiwi actor, or alternatively work precisely on the accent. It’s a shame as Preston-Low is otherwise excellent. Lawrence gives Gilbert a real exuberance but in quieter moments also hints that the time taken to complete his studies may not sit as well with Gilbert as he proclaims.
The Wind and the Rain makes a welcome return after so many years. This lovely evening in a sitting room in rainy Edinburgh in the 1930s is a reminder of why this play was originally so successful. The characters are warm and relatable, the script is funny, and the themes of love and finding your own way are just as relevant now as they were a hundred years ago. I look forward to seeing what else the Finborough Theatre rediscovers over the coming months
Written by: Merton Hodge
Directed by: Geoffrey Beevers
Set and Costume Design by: Carla Evans
Lighting Design by: Richard Williamson
Sound Design by: Edward Lewis
Produced by: Presented by Julia Blomberg for Gabriel Entertainment Limited in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre
The Wind and The Rain plays at The Finborough Theatre until 5 August. Further information and tickets can be found here.