Having written episodes for TV shows like Mad Men, House of Cards and American Crime, you’d expect Keith Huff to be a dab hand when it comes to crime drama. It turns out, you’d be expecting too much.
The problem is, the narrative of A Steady Rain (first performed on Broadway in 2009 by Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig) just doesn’t translate to the stage. Set in present day Chicago, it follows two cops – one good, one bad; one alcoholic, one racist; one who cheats on his wife, the other who falls for the wife – as the weight of responsibility pushes their friendship to the limits. Too frequently it borders on pastiche and falls prey to the usual noir tropes: a femme fatale, corrupt cops taking the law into their own hands, the titular rain pattering away in the background, and endless monologues.
And boy are those monologues endless. Huff’s main error is telling, rather than showing, the details of the plot. There are moments of genuine excitement here, with tense shootouts, cars speeding down highways, passionate lovemaking and relationships fracturing through arguments. Yet we never see any of it. You get the sense that Huff is thinking cinematically, but watching this play feels more like listening to an audiobook version of a noir film. The dialogue is relentless and it takes some time to tune into its pacey rhythm, even if it never quite generates enough forward momentum.
That said, there’s a genuinely gripping story underneath it all. It might be based on cliché and stereotypes and is for the most part fairly predictable, but it’s a story you’ll want to follow through to its conclusion. Vincent Regan excels as the gruff Denny whose brash arrogance causes his family to slip through his fingers like raindrops, whilst David Schaal’s Joey is a calming and sympathetic stage presence. The writing may not offer much nuance, but the actors certainly do their best to bring this story off the page.
Ed Ullyart’s set design and Simon Bedwell’s lighting also provide plenty of melancholic moody style, the monochromatic colour scheme and stark lighting creating a modern noir ambience that suits the intimacy of the space. And when that steady rain does eventually fall at the back of the stage in the play’s climactic moments, it is quite chilling.
Watch: A Steady Rain runs at the Arcola Theatre until 5th March.
Photos: Nick Rutter