First Night: Three Days Of Rain, Apollo Theatre, London

Soap studs in the rain fail to enliven this house of mystery
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The Independent Culture

Sucks to the snow, there is a lot of rain about on the London stage at the moment. Pete Postlethwaite is caught nightly in a posh cloud of fine drizzle as King Lear at the Young Vic, while Janie Dee fantasises a sexual encounter in a downpour on her own back lawn in Alan Ayckbourn's Woman in Mind at the Vaudeville and the rain it, well, raineth every bloody day in Twelfth Night at Wyndham's.

And now the soap stud Nigel Harman could do with some soap suds as he flexes his pecs in a sheet curtain of sparkling wet stuff in the revival of US playwright Richard Greenberg's cunning comedy Three Days Of Rain, already dubbed "sheer theatrical Niagara" and proving the shower power of not only Harman but also James McAvoy and Lyndsey Marshal.

These three, very likeable actors play two sons of architects and the sister of one of them in the first act; and then the two architects and the woman one of them married in the second. This does not involve any extra wigs or make-up as all the characters are played at the same age of around 30. The first act occurs in 1995, the second in 1960.

As the playwright himself says, "there is some assembly required because it's almost a mystery". One architect has died and his son Walker (McAvoy) has stumbled on the abandoned loft in downtown Manhattan where the practice was forged. The draughting board, the musty old bed and the whole play, in fact, comes bathed in a sound design by Matt McKenzie that sounds ominously like Michael Nyman; it must be in the draughtsman's contract.

The designer, Soutra Gilmour, has provided a magnificent grey airy eyrie that would do well for Ibsen's master builder, full of steamed up windows and framed in grey brick. Here, free-spirit Walker and his respectful sister Nan (who has children in Boston) talk not so happy family talk on the day of the funeral. And Harman's Pip, a bursting-to-please-you daytime television personality, chips in with his own theories about what should happen to the old family house the partners designed together.

It is all fairly diverting, Greenberg's witty, pacy dialogue full of Broadway-pleasing name-checks like Cole Porter, Hamlet, Hedda Gabler and, er, Heidegger and Rochefoucauld. Key to the second act is the discovery of a diary where the first entry "three days of rain," when unravelled in the second act, explains why Walker wants nothing to do with his father's house.

Jamie Lloyd's production is a fully charged Donmar-style job, though it's not quite as good as the Donmar's own UK premiere 10 years ago with Colin Firth. There is an element of "so what" about it, despite the best efforts of Harman typecast as Mr Nice Guy and Marshal offering a brilliant double of the accommodating Nan and the blowzy Southern bitch Lina, straight out of Tennessee Williams.

McAvoy gives two nuanced, well projected performances in each act, first as the non-prodigal son and then as his intelligent, sensitive father handicapped by a severe stutter and suddenly incapable of containing his thoughts on life, work and love any further. We see a certain type of man become another type of go-getter, and it's not a pretty sight. But it rings horribly true and sounds totally American.