Rain brings to mind a broad set of associations. Staring at streams running down a window in a melancholy funk. Silver screen lovers kissing in an ecstatic downpour. A child in wellies splashing in puddles. The bringing of an apocalyptic flood. If weather and mood are closely related, psychosomatically and linguistically – sunny dispositions, fogs of depression – then the rain is a pleasingly malleable symbol.
A Rain Walk, an audio work by Andy Field and Beckie Darlington, co-created with children in the UK and Ireland, proceeds from this ambiguity. The listener leaves the house for a walk in the rain, puts on their headphones, and lets the voices of the children guide them. It’s a mood piece: a collage of impressions, imaginings, associations, flights of fancy, circulating around its central watery motif. Instructions on how to play in a puddle, stories for a future where it rains constantly, questions for the listener about their memories of the rain, specifications for a new Ark for a world facing climate catastrophe all swirl together in a soupy stream of voices.
The piece requires spontaneity of its listener – you can’t exactly plan when you experience it, and have to surrender yourself to a spur of the moment decision as and when you notice the weather turn. Perhaps, when you do this, you don your headphones already in a more pronounced state of awareness, of suggestibility.
As the children in my ears tell me about what they can see through their windows, from their vantage in August 2020 – cloudy skies, a flower bent over like the leaning tower of Pisa, branches blowing in the wind – I pass a group of schoolchildren, running around the park in high-vis jackets. The voices in my headphones are by turns persuasive, tentative, clumsy, unguardedly expressive. I wonder if they’ve felt their worlds become smaller in the same way I have, or if their worlds are not yet big enough to shrink.
There are also segments which stray from the subject of rain. Are the children looking forward to growing up? What do they hope to see in the future? Do they feel mostly fear or mostly wonder? Some of the answers make me sad. The piece shifts from being about inhabiting the present moment – the weather as it is right now – to looking towards the uncertainty of the future, the portentous cloud, the inaccurate science of forecasting.
Now, a confession. Circumstance has conspired to keep me indoors during a short spell of rainy weather. The two weeks after that see the break of spring, with sun forecasted all the way out. In the interest of filing this review in something approaching a timely fashion, I eventually decide to compromise and do a… blue skies walk instead.
Plainly, I’ve made a mistake. The piece wants me open to notice my surroundings and my body in those surroundings – the way you feel some sudden chemical rearrangement at the shock of fresh air after too many hours (days) indoors. But conscious of my betrayal of the piece, of having already put the walk off too long, and a handful of other small life-distractions, I’m all in my head(phones). I don’t have the physical sensation of the rain to jolt me into my skin, and the mental effort of recall only makes me less present. I’ve tried to exercise control over something that relies on chance, and I regret it.
But it’s an interesting experience in other ways. As I walk along a route I’ve taken countless times before, many times in the rain, now in the warming weather and as people flock outdoors (you wouldn’t know there was a virus in the air), I’m struck by how this experience might be more pleasant in the rain for better guaranteeing a degree of solitude. Now I’m avoiding people traffic, and aware of how I’m being choreographed in a crowd. The piece is adjusting my temperament, turning me inward as everyone else blossoms into conviviality. It’s like I have my own personal cartoon raincloud hovering above me.
I called this a mood piece, and much of that is down to Christopher Brett Bailey’s score. Better known for guitar music that mandates earplugs, here he contributes a sensitive ambient soundscape. Keyboards plink and plonk, stochastic like droplets on concrete. After the piece ends, the music stretches on for another ten minutes or so, keeping the piece’s surface tension steady. What a lovely gesture, I think, when remote/digital theatre often bursts its bubble abruptly and drops you awkwardly back into your life. Earlier, a voice instructed me to walk towards my nearest body of water. I’ve made it to the harbour now and I sit and dangle my feet over the Avon, still in my own shrinking world.
A Rain Walk is available to download until 28th March. More info here.