Old Vic’s ‘Life Raft’ Raising (In)visible Blinds

Watching the ‘Life Raft’ is like having a bad dream – an imaginative dream, yet grippingly realistic. It’s like floating in the midst of an infinite sea.

By adopting ‘The Raft of the Medusa’, a 1945 play by German playwright Georg Kaiser, writer Fin Kennedy strongly underlined the universality of the ‘human nature’ theme. One is met face to face with existential dark questions: ‘Is human nature bad?’, ‘Is it never-changing?’, and ‘What are you ready to do to survive?’

These humanistic enquiries are being explored by the brilliant cast of 13 young actors – the children stuck at sea in the aftermath of war. Number 13 is no accident here, it’s the ‘curse’ that’s going to haunt them all through to the end.

We see these children-survivors in an after-shock; their innocence bleached with darkness, their childhood stolen, and conscious of their non-existent future in their prematurely gained knowledge of the mad adult world.

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They have no choice except to imitate the realm of grown-ups: select a leader, allocate roles, attempt democracy, impose suspicious system on passing judgements in pretence at democracy, and finally submit to pressing forces of ‘human nature’. Reminiscent of William Golding’s masterpiece ‘Lord of the Flies’ – Kaiser/Kennedy arrives at the same conclusion: children innocence is a double-sword trap – one can mould them by exposure: to beliefs and actions. They’re a wheel that can be turned this way and that and the ultimate responsibility lies outside. Who and what wins? Good or evil? Isn’t there anything in between?

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‘Everyone for himself’ is echoed throughout ‘Life Raft’ in a cruel undertone. Yet, this is what one is taught; this is what survival is about, and this is what ruins communities.

In ‘Life Raft’ one sees kindness and attempts at kindness, even though madness prevails. It’s this bitter taste at the end, the non-fairytale ending that’s needed to awaken our minds to really see, to pay attention, to raise our blinds. The timing of ‘Life Raft’ cannot be better in the light of the refugee crisis. The hysterical ending resonates with world outrage at what happened to the three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, and screams with a powerful theatrical cry: ‘History repeats itself’.

Photos: Jack Offord