The long good­bye

The Rafters’ spirit shines in poignant farewell

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - TV Guide - - Front Page - – Deb­bie Schipp

Call it the long­est good­bye – one that re­quired those at its cen­tre to main­tain a year-long fa­cade. Con­fir­ma­tion that Packed To The Rafters was to end with its sixth sea­son came just weeks ago, fi­nally let­ting ac­tors Rebecca Gib­ney and Erik Thom­son off the hook.

They, and the rest of Rafters’ cen­tral cast, had known since early last year that sea­son six would be the last of Rafters as they knew it. Which made shoot­ing the fi­nal scenes, just be­fore Christ­mas 2012, es­pe­cially poignant.

As they wrapped up on set, they had to stay non- com­mit­tal pub­licly while ru­mours flew about the show’s end.

In late Jan­uary, the vet­eran act­ing duo care­fully chose their words as Rafters re­turned to our screens af­ter the sum­mer non-rat­ings hiatus. If it was to be the end­ing of the fa­mil­ial drama, they said, the sea­son six fi­nale was a fit­ting one.

On Tues­day night, Rafters leaves our screens with a heart­felt two-hour fi­nale that fea­tures all of the hu­mour and heart­break that have made the show so loved by Aussie view­ers. It’s a poignant farewell – ty­ing up loose ends, tak­ing a trip down mem­ory lane and of­fer­ing prom­ise of new ad­ven­tures.

Gib­ney, who played ma­tri­arch Julie Rafter along­side Thom­son’s pa­tri­arch Dave for more than five years, says she’ll watch it at home and be in floods of tears all over again. “I cried film­ing it, I cried watch­ing it, and I’ll cry watch­ing it again,” Gib­ney tells TV Guide.

Rafters may have come to its nat­u­ral con­clu­sion – af­ter all, laughs Gib­ney, “if the kids were still in the house at 35, there’s some­thing a bit wrong” – but the good­bye was still heart-wrench­ing.

“At the end, when you’re hang­ing up Julie’s out­fit and say­ing good­bye to the peo­ple you love … ba­si­cally, I spent the week be­fore Christ­mas in tears,” Gib­ney says. “Es­pe­cially when I’d look at Erik, or I’d look at Michael Ca­ton. They’d just start to flow.”

Gib­ney’s and Ca­ton’s heart­break­ing per­for­mance in the fi­nale is one of the most mem­o­rable of the good­byes.

All sea­son the pair has show­cased an emo­tional sto­ry­line as Ca­ton’s Ted slips into the rav­ages of de­men­tia.

“Michael and I have al­most a re­al­life fa­ther-and- daugh­ter re­la­tion­ship,” Gib­ney says. “So los­ing him in char­ac­ter and know­ing I was los­ing him off screen as well was hugely emo­tional.”

Both Gib­ney and Thom­son say farewellin­g their on-screen mar­riage was the big­gest wrench. “We’re hus­band and wife on screen, but our re­la­tion­ship off is more brother-sis­ter, or friends with­out ben­e­fits,” Gib­ney says.

“Erik and I had such a short­hand. It made a job I loved so much more en­dear­ing. We still catch up reg­u­larly. I’ve done a lot of drama in 30 years, but never had such close­ness with the cast that de­vel­oped on this show.” Thom­son is sim­i­larly adamant. “We’re friends for life,” he says. “We had a very easy rap­port. Work­ing so well with some­one, so nat­u­rally, for so long, al­lows you both com­fort and vul­ner­a­bil­ity in your work. It was a gift.

“I got to play the spec­trum: the cheeky rap­port; Dave meet­ing his birth mother for the first time; the story arc which ex­plored him suf­fer­ing de­pres­sion – the gritty stuff and the real stuff.

“The peak was prob­a­bly the death of Melissa (Zoe Ven­toura’s Rafters char­ac­ter, killed in a car ac­ci­dent in a closely guarded se­cret that left view­ers reel­ing). To me that was when the show crossed to a new level, when Rafters came off the screen and into re­al­ity.

“We re­alised then the power and the trac­tion that the show had, and how it

I cried film­ing it, I cried watch­ing it, and I’ll cry watch­ing it again

was get­ting into the so­cial fab­ric.”

Both Thom­son and Gib­ney trea­sure the smaller scenes and mo­ments which made the Dave-Julie dy­namic so real.

“It was lit­tle things – like when Dave went out and got drunk and came home, flopped on the lounge slur­ring, and they sub­ti­tled him rav­ing drunk,” Gib­ney laughs. “That was in­cred­i­bly funny – and Erik is a very funny man.

“An­other sto­ry­line I loved was when Julie was menopausal, and she asked Dave if he still thought she was beau­ti­ful – they were the very real and small mo­ments I trea­sure.”

Thom­son jokes that when they found out that Rafters re­ally was com­ing to its con­clu­sion, he wanted the end­ing to be all about Julie and Dave.

“Of course all the kids were back, but I kept say­ing to them: ‘You’ve all had your fan­tas­tic farewell episodes, so back off – this one’s for us.’ ” Thom­son jests.

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