Every family has its stories, the versions of the past that have been re-told so many times that they become more like fables than history. In A Sudden Violent Burst of Rain, Sami Ibrahim spins a poetic mythic tale that starts promisingly but gets bogged down trying to balance fairytale with reality.
Elif is a young sheepshearer making wool to turn into clouds on an unnamed island but one day, after meeting the son of the local landowner, she finds a seed inside her which she re-plants in the soil and grows into a little girl, Lily. But both mother and daughter face an uncertain future as they are visitors to the island and not registered with the king, propelling Elif into a Kafkaesque nightmare of hostile bureaucracy.
The play uses a mythic narrative to present the experience of being a refugee in a foreign country, and reflects how stories and storytelling work as an escape from trauma. The reality of Elif’s life seeps into the story as it emerges that her job vacuuming up rainwater from the streets of a big city is – unsurprisingly – an allegory for her low-paid job as a cleaner but this tantalisingly points to powerful possibilities for the play that are never fully realised.
Under director Yasmin Hafesji, the three-strong cast of Sara Hazemi, Princess Khumalo and Samuel Tracy make the best of the material, sometimes breaking out of character to bicker about how to tell the story. But despite its important themes around colonialism, power and the plight of refugees, this timely new play is a promising concept that loses its way in the telling.
A Sudden Violent Burst of Rain runs in Paines Plough’s Roundabout at Summerhall at Edinburgh Fringe to 27 August 2022 and then at London’s Gate Theatre from 19 to 31 October 2022. Tickets at edfringe.com and gatetheatre.co.uk.