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Review: RAW, Troublehouse Theatre

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Joe Evans went along to see troublehouse theatre’s production of RAW, showing at the Joshua Brookes Theatre, Princess Street, Manchester, until June 6th. He was impressed by its gritty and realistic use of the space, and by some excellent quality acting. 

Exposed brick walls, a claustrophobic stage and the slight smell of alcohol. None of this would seem to be an appropriate setting for an award-wining playwright’s latest offering. Despite this the spareness of the Joshua Brooks basement complements Chris O’Connell’s RAW perfectly. The play is abrasive, disorientating and, well, raw.

Director David Crowley’s emphasis on the play’s confrontational dialogue makes for an intense viewing. Members of the audience are never allowed to fully relax into their seat with music exploited throughout to place you at centre stage. As the play opens on three girls aboard a train, violently assaulting a drunk man, the tone is set for an uncomfortable but thrilling hour.

Heather Carroll is terrifying as Lex, the play’s troubled protagonist. However, opposite Jamie Scott, who plays community worker Reuben, Carroll explores a tenderness that makes her all the more impressive. Emily Curtis and John Weaver, who play Lorna and Addy respectively, are also imposing as violent thugs. They too though are equally adept at playing the vulnerable young people they are exposed to be. Playing Trainers, Amey Woodhall, is disconcertingly eerie but terrifying too when called upon to be aggressive.

The play itself is a disorientating experience. As previously stated music is used throughout to increase the tense atmosphere in the small theatre. This is effective, but can become slightly too abrasive in places, the sound being amplified further by the hard acoustics of the room. David Crowley’s exploitation of space however is flawless. He turns an awkwardly shaped and limited stage into one of the plays greatest strengths. The director’s spatial awareness sees the stage divided into more than one place at a time, a difficult skill given the limited floor stage.

O’Connell’s script is likewise excellent if slightly over-ambiguous in places. Shifts in setting, time, reality and dream sequences make for an interesting take on the tried and tested kitchen sink drama. The success of this fluidity again owes much to David Crowley’s ability to translate them to the stage. It is the strays into ambiguity in which the script begins to fall apart. While this does set the play apart from others of its genre and thematic content, the play’s inconclusiveness did leave the audience visibly confused in places. It is by no means a detrimental flaw in the script. Rather it is an ambitious use of a dramatic technique that sometimes fails to fill in necessary gaps.

RAW is an ambitious piece of drama set in a theatre that perfectly reflects its content. The basement theatre is turned it into a battleground making RAW an intense but totally immersive experience.

Find the troublehouse theatre website here

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