Modern drawing room farce disappoints, despite strong cast

THEATRE
RAVING
Hampstead Theatre | Two stars

I THOUGHT you didn’t agree with stereotypes?” says Keith to his wife Briony. “You’ve restored my faith in them,” she fires back, stingingly.

Actor and playwright Simon Paisley Day obviously has plenty of faith in them, too – the whole of Raving is built on them.

Keith (Barnaby Kay) and Briony (Tamzin Outhwaite) are teachers whose lives are engulfed by mounting bills and the challenges of early parenthood. Exhausted, they agree to join successful PR execs Ross (Robert Webb) and Rosy (Sarah Hadland) and posh Serena (Issy van Randwyck) and Charles (Nicholas Rowe) on a week-long couples’ retreat in Wales. The differences between the couples show up vividly against the neutral green backdrop of the Valleys, and before long the holiday has built to a crescendo of antagonism involving a farmer, a gun and a drug-addled teenager.

If you’re going to base an entire play on the collision of certain stock demographics, you better make sure you get those demographics right. Ross and Rosy live in Clapham, eat organic food and pay for an expensive nanny. It’s a caricature of smug middle class life that’s been in circulation for so long that it’s no longer funny – buying organic is a noughties pretension. How about sanctimonious cycling? Apple products? Ernest Scandinavian drama?

Often the characters don’t fit the stereotypical moulds that Paisley Day carves out for them. He wants Ross and Rosy to be Maldon Sea Salt of the earth middle-class hypocrites, but Ross is too one-dimensional to be convincingly self-deceiving. He’s just nasty.

Tellingly, the most cartoonish of the six leads are the most believable. Serena and ex-SAS man Charles’ ribald humour belies an inner wisdom that eschews the neuroses of modern life, particularly when it comes to parenting. “How many kids do we have?” she asks him. He doesn’t know and he doesn’t care, he just wants to get down to some rumpy pumpy.

These two raise a few laughs but they can’t stop Raving from nose-diving toward an exhaustingly chaotic conclusion following the arrival of Serena’s 17-year-old niece. Why is it that teenage characters in a certain kind of play always speak like Ali G? This is the blinkered middle class world view that needs to be taken down a peg, the one that perceives the young as grammatically challenged, over-sexed drug addicts, preposterously using the word “catched” instead of “caught” and trying to sleep with everything that moves. Paisley Day should talk to some real teenagers – I’m sure his faith will be restored.