By Adam Rafferty
It’s not often a new chamber musical, created in Australia, is presented on the kind of grand scale the MTC is staging Come Rain or Come Shine. Based on a short story by British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, who’s perhaps best known The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, this is a tale of three old friends who met at university, two of them – Ray (Angus Grant) and Emily (Gillian Cosgriff) – bonding over a love of music from the Great American Songbook. However, Emily falls in love with Ray’s roommate Charlie (Chris Ryan) and now in their mid-forties, the trio come back together when Ray comes to visit and finds their marriage in turmoil.
Come Rain or Come Shine is similar in style to musicals such as The Last Five Years, [title of show] and Tick, Tick… Boom! centred around the relationships and foibles of a small number of characters, in a certain stage of their lives. Most differently though, this story is almost a farce in that it becomes increasingly absurd and improbable as it goes along, building to a physical comedy crescendo that must cause a nightmare for the props team each night!
Ray has been teaching English overseas ever since he left university, while Charlie and Emily got married and settled into high-powered corporate jobs in London. Ray would often visit the couple while on holidays, staying in their immaculately kept guest bedroom – the pair having no children. On his latest trip, leaving his girlfriend behind in Paris, Ray discovers the spare bedroom a mess and Charlie begging for his help to repair his relationship with Emily. The couple think Ray is a bit of a screw-up and Charlie reasons that if he nips away to the continent on a ‘work trip’ while Ray stays behind with Emily, she’ll soon appreciate just how good she has it with her husband. Ray is mortified at being used in such a way, but he may soon unintentionally resemble their character assessment.
Set largely in Charlie and Emily’s comfy, Bayswater London apartment, this could be the kind of fixed-set musical you’d see on a much smaller stage, with scenes outside the room being played in ‘limbo’, however Dale Ferguson’s set design does much more than that. Ray’s Spanish home becomes his university digs, then Charlie and Emily’s multi-roomed apartment complete with terrace; while restaurants, boardrooms and airport lounges pop in from the sides, and the four-piece band occupy the upstairs apartments above. The scale of the Sumner Theatre stage is not wasted.
Ishiguro’s original story is part of a collection called Nocturnes where each tale has a musical connection, so it was no wonder that composer/lyricist Tim Finn (renowned not only for his pop music career with Split Enz, but for his stage musical Ladies In Black) saw the opportunity to turn this funny little yarn into a musical. With writer Carolyn Burns, together they make use of the character’s interest in the Great American Songbook by having them play a game of word association, linking together classic tracks by lyrical connections, creating a completely new, if slightly lumpy, song of stitched together lyrics. Of course, the show’s title track is heard on-stage in recording by both Ray Charles and Judy Garland, along with Sarah Vaughan’s ‘Lover Man’, but this is as close as we come to that musical genre, for the rest of Finn’s music could perhaps be best described as patter songs. Almost ‘sung-through’ in style at times and very lyrical, there are no big ballads or romantic duets in this show, it’s songs driven by story more than necessarily by melody. There are a couple of slightly more melodious numbers however and Ray’s panic song about Emily’s purple notebook certainly stands out for both humour and memorability.
Angus Grant is on stage for the entire 105-minute running time and gives a superb performance throughout, both vocally and through his wonderful physical comedy. Chris Ryan is always a delight to hear sing and he brings a deliciously conspiratorial tone to the boisterous Charlie. Gillian Cosgriff shows great range in Emily’s development from her fun-loving youth to her caring, yet controlling, adulthood and the trio click together effortlessly.
Sophie Woodward’s costumes embrace the various eras perfectly and the band, led by Musical Director Jack Earle are swift and powerful. Isaac Hayward’s sound design is balanced beautifully.
This is very fun and unusual story that’s well worthy of the stage. One can’t help but think the music that was already integral to the book might have been enough to bring instrumental life to the play, nevertheless this adaptation is a very welcome addition to the list of new Australian musicals.
Images: Jeff Busby