Vincent Regan in A Steady Rain

A Steady Rain
By Keith Huff
Arcola Theatre, Dalston, London
Reviewed by Jarlath O'Connell

Two guys, friends since kindergarten, from the same rough streets, find themselves on different sides of the law and in love with the same woman. This has been a trope back to Jimmy Cagney's era. Make them beat cops battling the desk guys and the perceived venality of the system and you have the set-up for dozens of police procedurals.

The playwright, Keith Huff, is a successful TV writer on Mad Men and House of Cards and in 2009 he spread his wings to Broadway. It helped that when his two hander premiered there he had Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig as the leads. They could have read the phone book and so long as the two stars took their shirts off (they didn't) most of the audience, paying record breaking prices for a play, wouldn't have minded.

Here, more prosaically, the play got its UK premiere at the East Riding Theatre Company in Beverley in Yorkshire in a production now restaged at Dalston's hip Arcola Theatre. This production benefits greatly from the fact that the two excellent leads, Vincent Regan (above) and David Schaal (below), are much more convincing as Chicago beat cops than those Hollywood Adonises.

The problem though is that we are so familiar with this milieu, from Hill Street Blues to The Wire that, stripped off the cinema verité style of those shows, this material comes across as overwrought particularly in a tight studio space. Without the kinetic energy of the street scenes or the bustle of a crowded Precinct office, the dialogue sounds shrill and borders on pastiche.

David Schaal in A Steady Rain

Regan, late of movie epics such as 300, is well cast as the blustery family-guy Denny who preaches about honour and just doing his job while shaking down prostitutes "to keep the pimps off their backs". His skewed notions of honour contrast with Schaal's Joey who is a worrier. He helps out with Denny's wife and kids, while Denny keeps Joey away from the bottle. Huff deftly recounts the crucial turning point in their relationship alternating between monologues and a gritty, almost poetic, dialogue but again it will have so much more impact on screen.

Andrew Pearson's direction mostly strains for effect in the many action scenes (shoot-outs or a frantic dash to ER with an injured kid), and he draws on every acting sinew of his two leads to make them work. The dramatic potential of the steady rain, when it finally does appear, is also dissipated.

Despite their own dramas, Joey slowly falling for Denny's wife and Denny's ongoing affair with a prostitute on his patch, it is a domestic disturbance call-out involving a naked teenage Vietnamese boy with no English, fleeing from a serial killer, which they fatally mishandle, which brings things to a head. Here, Huff examines the plight of the frontline cop thrown to the wolves by a cynical system. All quietly reactionary and reminiscent of late period Clint Eastwood.

As it turns out however Steven Spielberg has got there first and the movie is being prepared. Nevertheless this is a noble effort for a fringe theatre.

Tickets: www.arcolatheatre.com

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