The new play, written by Deborah Bruce, has opened at London’s Hampstead Theatre, directed by Roxana Silbert.
Raya tells the story of a university reunion – or rather, what happens next. Jason (Bo Poraj) has bumped into Alex (Claire Price) that evening; the two, who it transpires had a bit of a fling while students, grab a drink afterwards back at Jason’s place. The show predominantly focuses on their story as they converse into the night, but we encounter a couple of visitors along the way.
The overriding feeling here is a sense of loss – of love lost, or the loss of youth, and indeed both our main characters here seem a bit lost in life. Over the course of 80 minutes we learn more about Jason and Alex and all is not as it first appears. Neither really has what they want – will the possibility of rekindling an old flame bring some spark back into their respective lives?
The are some things that Raya gets very right. There’s a believable chemistry between our two leads, and some enjoyable throwaway lines. An awkward joke about being giants while drinking from minibar-sized wine bottles raises a chuckle, while a quip about gifs gets a laugh. Unexpected visitor Alannah (Shannon Hayes), a former tenant of the house who has forced entry to stay due to circumstances outside her control, delivers a nuanced performance as a vulnerable young woman.
But we felt there was room for improvement. The script feels erratic and perhaps too ambitious given the limited running time – Jason is an overachiever, competing in triathlons while running a successful business, with talented daughters busy winning ballet competitions and a seemingly-happy marriage. Alex, on the other hand, is going through the menopause, struggling with relationship issues and has a complicated relationship with her troubled son. There’s an awful lot going on in a short time frame and we’re not sure the text does justice to all these different narrative strands.
We still enjoyed our evening with Raya – the evening passed perfectly pleasantly. We were never bored or wanting it to be over – it’s an entertaining and engaging story, but the various elements never feel like they quite come together to form a coherent whole.
GAY TIMES gives Raya – 3/5
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