Theatre review: Raving, Hampstead Theatre, London

A few good laughs, but our critic's not raving about it

Paul Taylor
Friday 25 October 2013 13:42 BST
Robert Webb and Sarah Hadland in Raving at the Hampstead Theatre
Robert Webb and Sarah Hadland in Raving at the Hampstead Theatre

"I thought you didn't do stereotypes," says one of the characters to his wife. "You've restored my faith in them,"she replies tetchily. I wish the same could be said about this energetic new comedy by the actor Simon Paisley Day. Three stock couples spend a weekend, away from their children, in a converted barn on a remote Welsh hillside. It's the first occasion that schoolteachers Briony and Keith have been parted from their three-year-old son who is still not weaned and the depressed, fretful Briony (Tamzin Outhwaite) has to make urgent use of the breast-pump ("My boobs are killing me"). The unorthodox way in which mother's milk spectacularly cures their ailing sex life is a climactic development.

The weekend has been engineered by the super-organised, seemingly perfect Ross and Rosy, very well played by Robert Webb and Sarah Hadland. The pair's long jointly-told party piece about the eastern European nanny and her blackmailing claims of wild afternoon sex with Ross makes your flesh creep with its insufferable smugness and blatant self-deception. You look forward to their come-uppance.

By contrast, the couple with nothing to hide are the upper middle class, huntin'-and-shootin' types – uninhibited, SAS-trained Charles (Nicholas Rowe) who thinks that the answer to everything, impotence included, is to go out and kill something, and Issy van Randwyck's hilarious, regally uninhibited Serena who likes to think of her body "as a kind of army assault course replacement for him".

Raving homes in on the dubious desire to be over-controlling (of children, friends, and spouses) and on the irony of ending up parenting other adults during an expressly progeny-free weekend. But having started off as updated Ayckbourn, the situation and the plotting become too broad and predictable. Tabby, Serena's anarchic 17-year-old niece (Bel Powley who played the stroppy adolescent in Jumpy) descends on them, uninvited, and heads off to a rave in a neighbouring fields.

This results in many things, not least, ultimately, to the three couples being held at gun-point by a fanatically religious Welsh farmer. But the idea that a one-night stand with the promiscuous Tabby (as she was passing through) may have liberated his disabled, 16-year-old son from excessive paternal protectiveness feels insensitive in its briskness – a plot function that fits too neatly into the play's pattern of concern about control. Edward Hall's cast perform the piece with terrific attack and expertise and it's only fair to report that the first night audience fell about with mirth. I had a few good laughs myself but stopped well short of raving.

To 23 November; 020 7722 9301

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