Review | 100% Chance of Rain – Chickenshed’s Rayne Theatre ⋆⋆⋆⋆

100% Chance of Rain is a show that is one of a kind.

As you take your seat at the theatre, you think you are in familiar territory and in to see a conventional play. The stage is framed with cream coloured broken umbrellas and nothing appears to be out of the ordinary. But as the house lights go down, next thing you know you are greeted by a woman projected on a screen telling the audience to close their eyes and focus on their breathing. She enters into a monologue and seven or eight cast members in brightly coloured clothing grace the stage and are all moving in unique ways, almost as if to communicate something. Thus, the tone for the night is set and you realise you are in for an interesting evening ahead.

The show is an exploration of mental health in young people. We are presented with seven individual pieces, each crafted in different ways. Through using a range of mediums including music, dance, monologues and physical theatre, each piece seeks to dive beyond the surface and explore areas of this subject matter which are not often tread. These topics include attitudes towards single parenting, the adverse mental health effects of online gaming and suicide to name a few.

We learn that the woman who we met through the projection at the start is Liz Abulafia, an imagined expressive arts therapist. She remains with us, in person I should add, throughout the show and is reminiscent of a 70s Blue Peter presenter. She provides commentary between each section, plays about with a sandbox and at times joins in with the pieces.

The project is ambitious in the way it touches on subject matters which are often stigmatised. But in doing so, it seeks to give a voice to a range of people in society, particularly youths, who can often be misrepresented. For example, when we think of young people today, it is sometimes assumed that they are mostly consumed by thoughts of avocado on toast and updating the world on what they’re up to through social media. But in the show, we see that for many young people their thoughts can go to much darker places than this.

In one scene, a game is played where the characters state what they’d take with them on an imaginary balloon. As each goes to the microphone in turn, they joke about how they’ll take their Netflix account or snacks that they wouldn’t share with anyone else. But as the game grows more earnest, the young people talk about how they’ll take their insecurities, fear of failure and even their suicidal thoughts.

Although the show grapples with heavy subject matter, it worked for me on many levels. I enjoyed how it was such a creative outpour and had no perceived limits to what it could incorporate. It took risks with what could be done on stage and I found that thrilling. In one of the more striking pieces, we hear two girls vividly describe their experience of and relationship with self-harming. As they speak directly to the audience, cast members work around them representing the trapped feeling of not being able to speak to anyone. It’s unsettling, even more so because the words are counterpointed by the blaring sounds of Eurythmics’, ‘Sweet Dreams’. But in doing this, I think it succeeds in conveying the complex struggles that lead to behaviours such self-harming in a way that makes you want to sit up and pay attention.

The theatre company should also be applauded for being so inclusive. The ensemble cast had members of all ages, sizes; there were performers with disabilities and also performers with a mixed set of skills and strengths. In the finale, the entire cast comes together in a contemporary arrangement of Jonny Nash’s ‘I Can See Clearly Now The Rain Has Gone’ which is slightly more haunting than the well-known version. There seemed to be almost a hundred people on stage and you can tell that the creation of this show was a real labour of love.

My only reservation was that as a dramatic piece, the show included perhaps one too many concepts and ideas. The risk is that when an audience is presented with so many things to focus on in succession, it makes it hard to digest everything.

Some go to the theatre as an escape from the harshness of day to day reality. If that’s what you seek, then this show is not for you. Rather if you’d like to be confronted by the myriad of mental health related issues in our society in a surprisingly engaging and creative way, then I would recommend 100% Chance of Rain.

100% Chance of Rain is running at The Chickenshed’s Rayne Theatre until 30th March 2019.

Photo Credits: Daniel Beacock and Caz Dyer.

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