Hampstead Downstairs / Celia Atkin
There is something unreal and disturbing about the long room in which designer Moi Tran sets Deborah Bruce’s new play Raya; it matches with the uncertainty and emptiness that its characters feel at this point in their lives.
This is where, thirty years ago, Alex and Jason conducted their student affair and now they are back here in an empty house of which he is the owner and now in the process of selling. Except it isn’t empty, there is a student hiding upstairs who can’t get into her new digs until tomorrow. All three have a similar problem: a gap in their lives that they find it difficult to handle.
Alex, who is mid-menopause and suffering from it, came back to this old stomping ground for a college reunion. Did she hope to rekindle past passion? Jason doesn’t remember things in the same way. When twenty-year-old Alannah emerges and takes Alex to be Jason’s therapist wife Raya, why does Alex not correct her?
It isn’t just Claire Price who captures Alex’s menopausal disorientation; the whole play is affected, as seen from her sometimes surreal perspective. Bo Poraj is a much more grounded Jason, his memory of their relationship different but, though he doesn’t burst into tears, he has his own trauma to deal with. Like him, Shannon Hayes’s Alannah is dealing with loss.
Alex says she had a plan, but if she did it isn’t working. Her edgy interaction with Jason keeps taking a new tack and Bruce withholds key information until nearly the end of this 90-minute exploration of mid-life crisis, and of gender and generational differences.
Raya is an unsettling reflection of the problems of coming to terms with life and getting older that director Roxana Silbert underpins with the starkness of her staging and Matt Haskins’s lighting. In this intimate space, it focuses attention on its strong performances. With the coming of a new day, the play seems to suggest new hope, but that isn’t easy to believe in.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton