Raving, Hampstead Theatre – A very funny if not deep look at parenting in the 21st century

3.5 hearts

Simon Paisley Day, who is better known as a stage and television actor, has put pen to paper to bring us, Raving, a comedy of manners set in a remote Welsh cottage where three dislikeable couples have come to spend a relaxing weekend away from the bustle of London and their respective children.  Briony and Keith, insecure and disorganised teachers, arrive before everyone else and it is soon clear that she is one stressed-out mum.  Having left her three-year-old son for the first time, Briony is only one instant away from a panic attack throughout the play.  In walks last-minute guests Charles, the frightfully posh gun-toting ex-SAS toff and Serena, his equally Sloanie wife, both straight out of a Country Life magazine.  Added to this mix are the obnoxiously perfect couple, Ross and Rosy, who have organized this weekend, both PR consultants.

We are entertained to Ross and Rosy’s tale of their blackmailing East European nanny who claimed to have had wild sex with Ross.  We get to meet the landlord who turns out to be a fundamental Christian farmer.  And before long, Serena’s 17-year-old drug-taking free-loving niece, Tabby, crashes their weekend and strategically throws a number of “social” grenades into the group.

Sarah Hadland (Rosy) and Robert Webb (Ross).  Courtesy Hampstead Theatre

Sarah Hadland (Rosy) and Robert Webb (Ross). Courtesy Hampstead Theatre

Paisley Day wanted to take a look at parenting in the 21st century when older couples embark on starting a family and try to maintain the sense of control they felt they had prior to the little brats arriving.   The play had the audience laughing most of the evening, myself included, as the situations became increasingly ridiculous.  Some of the jokes are repeated, such as a door, which opens only a crack before it hits something inside the tiny bedroom, but even those are funny in the heat of the play.  It is a testament to Mr. Paisley Day’s talent that he can write such funny lines.  As much as I would like to give this play a superlative review due to its comic delivery, I am forced to tell you that it never does achieve lift-off as a result of the extremely stereotyped two-dimensional characters and the implausible and predictable plot.

To quote Chekov, “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.”  And I would add, that there is much obvious foreshadowing throughout the play so that we are not surprised when the three couples are held a gunpoint by the end or when the expressed breast milk of the first act makes an appearance in the last.

That said, Briony is very well played by Tamzin Outhwaite and Barnaby Kay is convincing as her solicitous other half Keith.  Sarah Hadland’s Rosy is amusing as the smug perfect spouse and Robert Webb is very good as the obviously duplicitous cheat Ross.  The stars of the evening, however, must be Issy Van Randwick as Serena and Nicolas Rowe as Charles, the no-nonsense doctor and her dim-witted ex-military husband.  Theirs is an eccentric world of sex on the naughty step and libido affirming shooting parties.  Bel Powley as Tabby conveys teenage angst perfectly while Ifan Huw Dafydd is amusing as the nutcase farmer.

Edward Hall keeps the production moving at a brisk pace.  It is my understanding that the first night had a few glitches with timing but I’m happy to report that all seems to have been ironed out since.  The programme mentions Farquhar, Wilde and Coward but I think that this play is more akin to a television sitcom.  Nevertheless, at £32 for top tickets, it is much better value for money than the dearer Woodhouse currently running in the West End and much funnier at that.