Generation X hits the menopause in new writing at Hampstead
“Oestrogen is the chair that God pulls away just as a woman is about to sit down”
There are too few plays which mention the menopause. Have I lost my male readers at this point? Please stay. In Deborah Bruce’s new play Raya, the central figure Alex (Claire Price) is 49 and has just attended a reunion at her university organised on Facebook. Thirty years on from their October start. She has gone specifically to meet Jason (Bo Poraj) with whom she had an affair when they were undergraduates.
They have left the reunion and come back to the flat owned by Jason which they remember from university. He now lets out the flat to tenants, but it has just been redecorated and is empty. Alex wants to drink wine out of mugs to recreate their student life in that flat, but Jason has wine glasses he insists on using. This isn’t the last of Alex’s plans to go awry.
Alex’s desire for their “Brief Encounter” hits a major obstacle when they discover than an ex-tenant, 19 year old Alannah (Shannon Hayes) has broken into the flat because she had nowhere to stay the night. Jason leaves Alex to sleep downstairs on a makeshift bed and Alannah is allowed to stay upstairs.
In the middle of the night, Alannah comes downstairs. Alannah presumes Alex is Jason’s therapist wife Raya, with whom she has only had email conversations. Suddenly Alex finds herself knowing more about Jason than her Facebook researches have uncovered.
Alex is at a turning point in her life. She tells Jason that “There are thirty-four symptoms associated with the fucking menopause, thirty-four! Can you imagine if men got something that had thirty-four symptoms?”
We witness a few of these symptoms as Alex needs to open the door as she has a hot flush. We get a lot more of her biographical detail which might be hormonal, or depression or a general staleness and dissatisfaction with her life and marriage in middle age.
The photos show the beautiful lighting from Matt Haskins and Moi Tran’s almost empty living room set has a street door with mail and flyers piling up, and a few cardboard boxes to sit on. Roxana Silbert’s assured direction is deft.
There is delightful acting from Claire Price as Alex sifts through her memories and translates them into hope. Bo Poraj too has a solidity as Jason who is happier with humour than divulging who he is now. Shannon Hayes’s part as teenager Alannah calls for her to spill out her lines without a pause for breath or reflection on the unknowing impact of her words.
I like the way Deborah Bruce has crafted her play so that Alex learns crucial information about Jason, from another, and without him knowing. We become aware of what Jason cannot tell us and what he has been through. We see Alex mentally pulled away from her escape night when there is a missed call from her son who is in trouble and she panics. There is a huge denouement in the final act when Jason’s daughter Grace (Elena Coleman) is dropped off by her grandparents which I cannot divulge.
Written by Deborah Bruce
Directed by Roxana Silbert
Elena Coleman / Ruby Woolfenden
Director: Roxana Silbert
Designer: Moi Tran
Lighting Designer: Matt Haskin
Composer and Sound Designer: Nick Powell
Design Associate: Mona Camille
Running Time: One hour 20 minutes without an interval
Booking to 24th July 2021
Hampstead Theatre Downstairs
London NW3 3EU
Phone: 020 7722 9301
Tube: Swiss Cottage
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at
Hampstead Theatre Downstairs
on 18th June 2021