Raw | Edinburgh International Conference Centre | Rating ****
If we’re lucky, it’s in the face of loving parents who are just a few seconds slow with nourishment. If we’re not, it’s to survive all manner of needs not being met. The characters in Raw are not so lucky.
Six girls and one boy inhabit a world entirely devoid of parental support; a dusty space populated not by toys and a cosy bed, but rocks, empty tin cans and a dirty old mattress. Yet, it must be said, much of the time they are the epitome of happiness.
Because what child doesn’t dream of being allowed to do exactly as they please? To throw rocks without chastisement, to run around without being told to slow down or sit still? As adults, we watch the children in Raw and want to take care of them; for children or young people in the audience the word foremost in their mind is probably ‘freedom’.
But Raw is, of course, a work of fiction – the reality is a lot harsher. Choreographers Joke Laureyns and Kwint Manshoven, of Belgium’s Kabinet K, were inspired by children who really do live life at the sharp end. Having watched two documentary films about growing up in poverty, ‘resilience’ appeared to be the key to survival. So they created a world where children are left to their own devices, but discovered that theatrically, it only works if they are seen in relation to something, or somebody, else.
Enter 70-year-old Kristina Neirynck and Manshoven himself, who share the space with the children, but are by no means their carers. Which is when, for some people at least, Raw becomes complicated.
Nothing remotely sexual or predatory happens on stage, but seeing a man in his 40s roughhousing with a young girl – or worse still, shock horror, stroking her hair gently, will give some audience members pause for thought. Which is why, interestingly, Raw has toured extensively in mainland Europe and beyond, but has struggled to find venues in Britain willing to show it.
But viewed through a more innocent lens, the dynamic between the adults and children is fascinating. Unpredictability becomes the norm (as most children living chaotic lives will testify to) – one minute the man is friendly, the next he’s pushing them away. The older lady is vulnerable and needy, then finds the strength to comfort others.
Throughout, the children find their own way to self-soothe. There are no tears, very little anger (save for a brief moment of rock-throwing) – they simply get on with it. Food is cooked and eaten, hugs are given and received, laughter is shared.
None of which would have any impact were it not for the natural, and wholly believable, young cast – who essentially play themselves, just in a vastly different context to their own lives. Powered by the driving electric guitar of musician Thomas Devos, their movement is alive with energy – the performances never short of compelling.