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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Hampstead Theatre Autumn 2013

Three couples gather for a weekend away from the children. One mother is so unable to detach that she's still nursing her three-year-old and filled with anxiety apart from him, a second couple have structured their lives so tightly that nothing can ever go wrong, and the third are so sophisticated and laid-back that nothing can faze them. 

And so very quickly into Simon Paisley Day's new comedy we realise that, although we're told we're in Wales, we're actually in Alan-Ayckbourn-land, that borderless tragicomic realm in which middle-class comfort is relentlessly examined until the cracks begin to show and people face truths they must either adjust to or run away from. 

Actually, Raving is one of the best of pseudoAyckbourn plays, the playwright capturing just the right balance of broad comedy and catch-you-up-short home truths to make for a thoroughly satisfying evening. 

You really shouldn't need me to tell you which of the couples will be most shaken by the weekend's adventures, which will get through it hardly touched, and which will learn and grow but whether you spot the endings a mile ahead or are surprised by them, the play still works, since most of the fun is in the journey. 

Let me just mention that a bottle of breast milk changes hands a few times, that the sextet are joined briefly by the wild teenage niece of one couple, who has a propensity for flashing her bosom at whichever man she's around, and that the Welsh landlord is a deeply religious man certain that these city folk are up to no good. 

You can see the opportunities for broad double-take, painful mishap and pratfall farce. 

And let me add that at least two of the husbands are frustrated and unhappy, at least one of the couples barely able to communicate and at least one wife up to her ears in denial, and you can see that the comedy is effectively leavened by the awareness that real people are feeling real emotions beneath the silliness. 

Director Edward Hall skilfully treads the tightrope between farce and drama, maintaining the play's balance with remarkable ease, and if I pick out some of the excellent cast Issy Van Randwyck, Robert Webb and Barnaby Kay for special mention, it is because the script gives them special opportunities to shine, not because they outclass their equally excellent fellows.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Raving - Hampstead Theatre 2013 

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