littlesmackerel

Writing, concerts, theatre and a little bit of travel

Tag: Melbourne Theatre Company

Come Rain or Come Shine

This play, based closely on a short story of the same name by Kazuo Ishiguro, was performed by the Melbourne Theatre Company. It received mixed reviews. I liked it very much.

Ishiguro’s story is in an anthology, Nocturnes, published in 2009. The stories all have musical themes. The text of the play follows the short story almost punctiliously — much of the dialogue is lifted straight from the story. Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen, reviewing in The Guardian, summed it up: ‘an entertaining, if occasionally disappointing, way to spend a couple of hours’. She found the songs ‘unmemorable’ and the play ends ‘not with a bang but with a whimper’. https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2022/jun/27/come-rain-or-come-shine-review-a-fine-cast-shines-in-tim-finns-clunky-musical

Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen and I obviously have very different musical tastes. I find American jazz songs such as ‘Georgia on my Mind’ and ‘Dancing in the Dark’ some of the memorable, most beautiful music I have ever heard. The title of the play (and story), ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ is the title of a song (the theme of which is, I’ll love you forever, no matter what) and when they are at university, friends Ray (played by Angus Grant) and Emily (played by Gillian Cosgriff) argue about whether Ray Charles’ version of the song is superior to Sarah Vaughan’s. And I think this is what Ishiguro is saying about friendships forged during the formative undergraduate years of university — no matter what you do in life, that bond of friendship will be there. Ray and Emily, as undergrads, seem as close as close can be — they dance to the music, they argue about it, they love it — and (although this isn’t said in the story) maybe the friendship would be sullied if it were to become sexual — maybe Ray senses this. He looks at Emily as though he is in love with her. They dance, they snuggle together on the sofa.

Ray and Emily

As happens, Charlie (played by Chris Ryan), Ray’s flatmate at university ends up marrying Emily. There is a poignant song, written by Tim Finn, which Ray sings as best man at their wedding. All of the music is brilliantly handled. It is a combination of old recordings of Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughan, Judy Garland and music composed by Tim Finn, played by an on stage band. As Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen in The Guardian acknowledges: ‘The small band, under the musical direction of Jack Earle, is terrific, supple and evocative; their presence is glimpsed rather romantically through the slats of an apartment upstairs’. What no one else mentions is that the performed music segues seamlessly into the recorded music and vice versa — it must have been so difficult for the on stage band to be perfectly in tune with the recordings of Sarah Vaughan and Ray Charles — but they are.

In my experience, those friendships made at university are lifelong. Inevitably, everyone turns out differently — the corporate lawyers in their BMWs, and writer/ researchers like me on their bicycles. But there is a lasting understanding — and even after years apart the friendship picks up and continues. By the time they are in their late forties, Emily and Charlie are consumed by the corporate rat race — they see Ray (who is an ESL teacher) as a bit of a loser and they imagine that they can reform him. Charlie imagines that if Ray stays with Emily for a few days she will come to appreciate that, in comparison, he is a great success and their marriage, which is shaky, will blossom once again. But these things won’t happen and no matter that Emily might write ‘groan’ in her notebook when she knows Ray is coming to stay, we know that in the longterm, nothing will change.

For me, what is perhaps intended to be the climax of the play, is maybe its weakest point. Ray finds it hard to stand up for himself and when it is going to be clear that he has been sneaking a look at Emily’s notebook that she left on the kitchen table, he goes, with Charlie’s prompting, along with what they hope will be an elaborate cover-up. He has to end up wrecking Charlie and Emily’s pristine London apartment pretending to be an unwelcome dog. Of course, Emily arrives home before the act is complete and assumes Ray has ‘lost it’. But they are soon relaxing with glasses of Bordeaux and then, prior to much tidying up being done, they are in each others’ arms dancing…

The Guardian review sums this up as: ‘What’s meant to be absurd realism plays out as a confused and confusing comedy of errors’. No — I expect the dog-wrecking routine (also in the short story) is there to add some drama and some humour. It helps to highlight weak aspects of Ray’s character. And Giselle says that the play ends, ‘not with a bang but a whimper’. How does it end? I don’t have before me the exact words of the play, but it faithfully follows the short story, where Emily and Ray are arm in arm dancing to Sarah Vaughan’s version of ‘April in Paris’. And, in Ray’s voice: ‘for another few minutes at least, we were safe, and we kept dancing under the starlit sky.’

I believe that says a great deal about friendship. Ray and Emily will always have that bond, ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’.

Joshua Harmon’s Admissions, Melbourne Theatre Company

When I was attending my privileged independent school in Melbourne I genuinely thought that it was good to make toffees to sell at our stall to help support a mission school for poor Aboriginal children up in the Northern Territory. I thought that we should try to give them something that approximated our own education. It didn’t strike me until decades later that we could learn a huge amount from the First Australians — indeed, their relationship with and knowledge of the land is integral to our attempts to understand and try to navigate the world out of the disasterous consequences of climate change.

Joshua Harmon

Members of the Melbourne Theatre Company audience are very much a replica of the people this play is about: mainly white, well educated, middle class, with ‘progressive’ opinions. Indeed, in the play all of the actors are white — we never see the people of colour who are, we are told, a significant part of their lives.

Admission Manager’s Office

The setting for the play is Hillcrest, an elite, New Hampshire boarding school. The stage set shows a library of oak bookshelves holding 19th century tomes and the admissions manager’s office has solid antique furniture. In the first scene, a teacher is reprimanded by the admissions manager for producing a prospectus that ‘looks too white’ — she is trying to build up ‘diversity’, which means attracting more students of colour. But as the play progresses we come to realise that it is the ‘look’ that is important rather than the values.

Charlie argues with his parents

Everything blows up and truths seep out when a Hillcrest student of colour is accepted into Yale and the admissions manager’s son (who is white and got good grades) is not. Charlie, the son, brilliantly played by William McKenna, is initially put out by the news — in the usual rivalling way when a friend wins something and you don’t. But then he decides that he doesn’t want to go to a prestigious college and he wants the money his parents would have spent on his Yale education to go towards a scholarship so that some less privileged student can attend Hillcrest. His parents absolutely refuse. There is no way that they will accede or even listen to their son’s arguments. In a typical privileged way the mother starts to make enquiries and pull some strings totally against her son’s wishes. It is far more important to the parents that their son go to Yale than that a student of colour get a scholarship to Hillcrest.

William McKenna

Would I do the same thing if I had a son who didn’t get into Yale? I hope not — but I have a sneaking feeling that I might be torn towards such behaviour, or I might just offer some token donation to salve my conscience. Altogether a brilliant play.

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