Actor-turned-writer Simon Paisley Day plays it safe with his new comedy Raving, focusing on three couples as they spend a disastrous weekend together away from the city on a remote Welsh farm, bemoaning the perils of modern parenting. It’s a dramatic situation that has been overdone to such an extent that it has become something of a cliché and only a handful of the play’s jokes are completely original. However, while Raving may revisit old ground, there is something very comforting and easy about the play and it is proof that schadenfreude will always get laughs from an audience.
Raving’s couples are plucked straight from the strata of modern British society’s class system. Briony (Outhwaite) and Keith (Kay) are primary school teachers and the seemingly the worst off of the three both financially and emotionally. Ross (Webb) and Rosy (Hadland) are self-assured, wealthy perfectionists and Serena (Van Randwyck) and Charles (Nicholas Rowe) are uninhibited tweed-wearing, shooting gun-toting Old Money. Paisley Day shoves them all into a farmhouse, adds an irritable Welsh farmer (Dafydd) and Serena’s promiscuous teenage niece Tabby (Powley) and lets chaos ensue.
There are breastfeeding jokes, sex jokes, Welsh sheep jokes and a bit of borderline slapstick comedy. In other words, all is exactly as expected. While this is slightly disappointing in its lack of ambition the audience can’t help but laugh along. The plot may be predictable and formulaic but Paisley Day has an irresistible flair for comedy. He largely avoids the possible social commentary, trading it in for cheap laughs, but it works. There’s a hint of a message about controlling our lives to be found but it is forgotten somewhere between the noisy breast pump and the knife in the foot.
Big names like Tamzin Outhwaite, Sarah Hadland and Robert Webb will sell the tickets but the strongest comic performances are Van Randwyk’s Serena and Rowe’s Charles. The pair has a great dynamic and their eccentric, innuendo-laden exchanges are the funniest parts of the play. Each couple is perfectly captured in the script and on the stage (apart from Powley’s tearaway teen who is painfully stereotyped). There is a very large portion of farce in Raving but as a character study it is incredibly well done and the play’s strength rests on the couples’ relatability. The audience connects to them from the beginning be it with loathing (smug Ross and Rosy), pity (post-natal depressive Briony and her sex starved partner Keith) or with a strange admiration of Charles and Serena’s ‘anything goes’ approach to everything. The audience lap up the inevitable down fall of have-it-all couple Ross and Rosy with glee.
If Raving had been teetering on the precipice of farce throughout it plunges over the edge in its hilarious hostage finale where the couples are held at gun point by the angry Welsh Christian farmer, a scene into which Keith dances, post-coitally, to ‘Blurred Lines’. Like the rest of the play it is as unbelievable as it is fun. Raving is an entertaining evening that won’t push any boundaries but does give the audience a chance to laugh at the expense of others and the reassurance that they’re not doing so badly after all. This is comfort blanket theatre designed for parents escaping their little ones for the evening but it does contain the best use of the line ‘the milk of human kindness’ since Lady Macbeth and will have you chuckling until the end.