Taking a nostalgic look back at our younger selves, it can feel like the carefree days of our youth were somehow better than the stress of the reality we now live in. The drunken nights with no inhibitions, the romantic trysts with absolutely the wrong kind of person, the times when you had nothing better to do than to lie in bed all day. But if you had the chance to step back into those days, to recreate them, would you?
In Raya, at the Hampstead Theatre, Jason and Alex find themselves reconnecting at a university reunion. The years have changed much about them, but with the wine flowing they find themselves back at the flat where they shared many nights, and although they are both now married, words unspoken charge the air between them and bring old memories to the surface.
In such an intimate space, every miniscule moment of this play is filled with an intensity that brings a level of discomfort only theatre can provide. Rather than shy away from this, director (and Artistic Director) Roxana Silbert uses it to her advantage, fuelling the fire of uncertainty and confusion inherent in Deborah Bruce’s text. Building from a fairly natural engagement to a complex entanglement, she navigates the relationship between Alex and Jason with a delicate yet honest approach.
Whilst Bo Roraj, as Jason, and Shannon Hayes, as Alannah, provide excellent character work and context for the narrative, Claire Price’s performance as Alex is the true masterpiece of this production. From start to finish, Price pulls the audience into Alex’s mind, conveying a lifetime of love, heartbreak, disappointment, and struggle. With both a natural and heightened delivery, her performance feels so perfectly suited to the piece that it seems to be written for her, carrying the full weight of the story as we progress onward.
Design by Moi Tran plays upon the intimacy of the space to create a truly believable, though stagey, set. As soon as you walk into the auditorium of the Downstairs theatre, you enter a flat which has been left unchanged for twenty odd years. The layout, beyond what we see in front of us, is clear, enhanced by the lighting design by Matt Haskins, who brings the inside and outside worlds to life.
Avoiding any jarring exposition, the play develops with convincing dialogue to an emotional and dramatic conclusion, if somewhat uninspired. Through its twists, turns, and misdirections, Raya breathes life into a really gripping woman who finds herself in a situation she both desires and regrets.
Raya is now playing at Hampstead Theatre until 24 June 2021. For more information and to book tickets, visit Hampstead Theatre online.