Are critics Raving over Paisley Day's play?
Simon Paisley Day's new play ''Raving'' opened at the Hampstead Theatre last night. Starring Tamzin Outhwaite, Robert Webb and Sarah Hadland, it runs until 23 November 2013
…Raving… serves up plenty of laughs without quite convincing as a fully operational farce. Edward Hall's production sets off at such a panicky, frantic pace that the slightest stumble or hitch – and there were a few on opening night – undermines the overall momentum… Some devices work better than others… The fact that Paisley Day excels in so many areas, and can write funny lines and speeches, only shows how difficult creating good farce is. In trying to combine the deftness of Ben Travers's Rookery Nook, say, with the comic moral seriousness of Peter Nichols's Chez Nous, Paisley Day sometimes sacrifices the priority of old-fashioned technical construction to an instinct for modern shock tactics. It's an experiment that fails, but it's an honourable failure, and there are plenty of performances to enjoy…
Tamzin Outhwaite, Robert Webb and Sarah Hadland from the BBC's Miranda lead a strong cast in Simon Paisley Day's rather sitcommy play… Edward Hall's production is efficient, and there are a few moments when the cast coalesces riotously. As Outhwaite's fretful Briony jousts pathetically with her partner Keith (Barnaby Kay), Webb and Hadland are on canny form as control freaks Ross and Rosy. Bel Powley delivers a broad, bolshy turn as Tabby, while Issy van Randwyck and Nicholas Rowe combine well as a ghastly couple consumed with lust. The jokes are abundant yet of variable quality — the physical and visual ones generally stronger than the verbal. Also the plot is flimsy and the characterisation two-dimensional… Raving wants to feel sharply contemporary but it lacks real bite.
…Paisley Day and his director, Edward Hall, evidently regard Raving as a comedy of manners… But an apter comparison might be with the febrile energy and stock catchphrases of a television sketch show. Paisley Day seems convinced that a joke becomes funnier with every repetition… The cast of telly stars, and Jonathan Fensom's elaborate set, tend to reinforce the impression that we are watching a television pilot translated to the stage. The trouble is that despite Hall's bold direction, a good deal is lost in translation. Apart from Issy van Randwyck, who gives a masterclass in how to turn a coarsely-written character into a comic gem, the cast is alternately inaudible and shouty… But the real fault lies with the script…
…having started off as updated Ayckbourn, the situation and the plotting become too broad and predictable… 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.
Simon Paisley Day's new, adult comedy Raving made me laugh as hard as One Man, Two Guvnors did… this play is fresh, witheringly cruel about London professional couples, and honkingly funny… Miss van Randwyck, with her Felicity Kendal voice and startled-Womble hairdo in the second half, is an utter treat as boozy, politically-incorrect Serena. She and Mr Rowe are comedy gold… Jonathan Fensom's set offers us the occasional glimpse of Welsh countryside - when the rain is not pelting down outside. There is a repeated joke about the lack of space in one of the bedrooms - a door which you can open only a few inches before it hits a bed. Anyone who has rented a cottage in Pembrokeshire may recognise this habitual truth. Raving is, at one point literally, a blast.