The Raft

Court One, Christchurch

28/07/2007 - 18/08/2007

Christchurch Arts Festival 2007

Production Details

By Carl Nixon
Directed by Stephanie McKellar-Smith

From the pen of one of New Zealand’s prodigious young talents comes a touching play of tragedy, loss and redemption.

One rainy August weekend, in a lakeside West Coast settlement, Mark and Tonia retreat to Mark’s family bach in a last-ditch attempt to salvage their disintegrating marriage. But, when Mark’s estranged parents arrive unannounced, a torrent of painful memories threatens to drown them all.

What is the creature beneath the lake that hunts Mark in his dreams? Why have father and son not spoken in almost a year? How has this family been swept so far apart? Is there a road to reconciliation amongst the minefield of secrets and blame?

Christchurch writer Carl Nixon has already enjoyed significant success as a playwright with Kiwifruits and Crumpy. His first book Fish ‘n’ Chip Shop Song, a collection of short stories, was published last year and his first novel, Rocking Horse Road, written whilst Nixon was writer in residence at The University of Canterbury, will be in stores from July 6 this year.

THE RAFT started life as a 3,000 word short story, growing to 5,000 words for inclusion in Fish ‘n’ Chip Shop Song, before further development and a jump across genres saw it become a full-length stage play. Such is Nixon’s adaptability as a writer.

Described by Nixon as a dark family drama punctuated by moments of light relief, THE RAFT features a recognisable, working-class Kiwi family battling the demons of the past to secure a better tomorrow. There are things shared, and things which struggle to remain hidden, as blame, regret and guilt threaten to cause irreparable damage.

Opening 28 July, for a strictly-limited three week season.

Yvonne Martin
John Bach
Claire Dougan
Matthew Wilson

Set: Nigel Kerr
Lighting: Martyn Roberts
Costumes: Pamela Jones
Sound: Loki Stanley 

Theatre ,

2 hrs, incl. interval.

Risible rumblings undermine powerful human story

Review by Lindsay Clark 30th Jul 2007

For all its comparatively short running time, this is a complex play, anchored firmly in family relationships on one level and on another in the treacherous  mire of the supernatural, dreams and obsession. They are not equally successful in execution in spite of careful production and crisp direction.

The family’s story is truthful and compelling, revealed at just the right pace through a series of interactions, as first the son and daughter in law and then the parents arrive on a wild night at the family bach, somewhere on the shores of a West Coast lake. Not every family has the tragedy of a child’s death to resolve, but most New Zealanders will understand the claustrophobic silence of the wet forest and the sinister presence of dark water close by.

It is quickly established that only the two women are on comfortable terms, that the visit has been planned by them as a desperate and final attempt to heal the rifts between father and son and indeed between the younger couple. As is to be expected, things get worse before they get better.

The cleverly constructed escalation of emotional tensions is played out perceptively and in fine style by all four main cast members. No stranger to the stage at Court, Yvonne Martin, as Shirley, the mother, has some of the best moments, juggling concern, frustration and righteous wrath with impeccable timing. Her husband Jack, seemingly remote, in failing health and temper is brought to convincing life by John Bach.

Claire Dougan, as the daughter in law Tonia, builds a strong core of belief in a nicely understated performance, and as her tortured husband Mark, Matt Wilson tackles the catalyst role with credible intensity. Frozen by grief and bitterness he eventually finds the way forward for the whole family.

In the hands of these four actors, intelligently directed by Stephanie Mc Kellar and gifted with Nixon’s highly workable dialogue, a powerful human story of insight, drama and compassion is assured.

What appears miscalculated and contrived is the treatment of supernatural elements which have interested the writer but are notoriously difficult to pull off in live theatre. Thus the audible, at one stage physical presence of the dead child, the suggested malevolence of some non-human intervention at work in the rising waters of the lake on that Friday 13, flickering lights, smells of decay and the risible rumbling sound effects when tempers flare are details we could have done without. Are we meant to sense the awakening of the taniwha of the lake? The monster within? Whatever the intention, belief is temporarily suspended.


Robert Dudley August 3rd, 2007

L Clarke's reviewer's comments about the supernatural elements in the play show that she has totally missed the point. It was clear to even the most inexperienced theatregoer that the monster in the lake was a manifestation of a mind wrestling with the deepest kind of grief. At no point in either the production or the script was the literal reality of the Creature suggested. The supernatural elements in The Raft add another important layer to the play and it would have been a less powerful experience without them. And finally, the play contains two important surprises - both of which Ms Clark gives away in her review. Thanks for that, Lynn. I can't help but conclude that she wasn't really paying attention on the night she attended this brilliant new play.

Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council