It feels rather bad form to begin with a spoiler, even if it is, in the scale of things, quite a mild one. But there is one thing I need to get off my chest about The Raft before I can begin praising it. So, if you plan on seeing The Raft, which you should, you really should, I would ignore the rest of the next paragraph.
So, the question I couldn’t stop asking myself throughout The Raft was, well, do we really need another local play about two parents sometime later still failing to deal with the death of their young child? That’s not to say that The Raft makes some kind of hash of it, it works the issue and story very well with true emotional punch. But, honestly, I don’t know how many more times my heart strings can bear that particular type of tugging. In The Raft, I got it, I felt it the same way I got it and felt it in Heat and Deliver Us (admittedly in slightly a different way) and few other things. So, what I guess I’m trying to say, is that can we, well, not we, local playwrights leave that particular piece of emotional soil untilled for the next couple of years? It’s at a real risk of just becoming annoying.
That being said, there is a lot to praise about The Raft. The acting is universally excellent, with all four of the leads – Jason Whyte, Heather O’Carroll, Susan Curnow and Peter Hayden – playing complex and complete characters with vim and veracity never even listing close to the kind of emotional excess that scripts of this kind can sometimes, in less talented hands, engender.
The direction by Duncan Smith is simple and sublime, making the show clip along pleasingly, never allowing it to become self-indulgent or overlong. The design by Andrew Foster, Paul O’Brien, Phil Brownlee and Phil Benge, is immaculate and worth the price of entry alone, evoking very effectively claustrophobic spaces both literally and emotionally. Carl Nixon’s writing is very good, he has a great an economical sense of character, though sometimes the production’s slightly over descriptive dialogue does seem left over from the recent radio production.
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It looks like Downstage’s run of good theatre runs on this year with The Raft, a play of weight, poise and precision. Highly, highly recommended.
Written by Carl Nixon
Directed by Duncan Smith
With Jason Whyte, Heather O’Carroll, Susan Curnow, Peter Hayden and Bruno Smith
At Downstage, 12 June to 4 July 2009
Book at downstage.co.nz