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Published 25 October 2013

If the coalition fancied creating a new family planning initiative, they could do a lot worse than prescribing nubile couples with tickets to Simon Paisley Day’s Raving.

It is not that the actor-turned-writer’s latest is so dull it will bore the friskiness out of them – quite the opposite in fact – but more that this much child-related angst, anxiety and aggression in one place is enough to put anyone off.

In the wilds of Wales three couples have taken a break from their self-imposed stress inducers: children, I think they’re called.

There’s Tamzin Outhwaite’s depressed Briony, whose uncensored thoughts flow freely like the breast milk she has to express in the absence of her three-year-old, and Barnaby Kay’s emotional tightrope-walking Keith, who has a dubious taste in drinks. These are the parents whose lives are riddled with insecurity about every parenting decision.

There’s the whiskey-swigging, shotgun-swinging Serena (Issy Van Randwyck) and Charles (Nicholas Rowe), who let their children get on with it as parents can’t affect the outcome anyway.

Then there’s the picture of middle class smugness that are Robert Webb’s Ross and Sarah Hadland’s Rosy. The au pair-employing, ridiculous name-endowing epitome of the I-know-best, isn’t-my-child-perfect attitude. Of course, there’s no such thing as perfect and there’s much joy to be taken in seeing the expensive unruffled rug pulled from beneath their perfectly pedicured feet. Am I coming across as a parent whose life is not as ideal as theirs?

If separation from their bundles of fun and clashing parenting choices was not enough to turn banter into battery – and it probably could have been – Paisley Day throws in a misfit teenager who stuns this bastion of the middle class with her who-gives-a-flying-breast-pad attitude, and a single parent farmer with his own views on child rearing and promiscuity.

What begins as a comedy drawing many a knowing giggle and nod of recognition as it explores the “six-lane motorway of psychological carnage” that is parenthood takes a turn farce-wards as events become increasingly unusual.

The memory of Paisley Day playing Lord Evelyn Oakleigh in Anything Goes still raises a smile from me more than a decade after the National Theatre hit premiered. As a writer too he clearly has an ear for comedy. Raving is packed with moments of pure laughter-filled bliss.

Under the direction of Edward Hall the cast knows how to wring the most out of Paisley Day’s script. TV comedy stars Webb and Hadland beautifully scrub away their initial sheen of perfection. Van Randwyck – a mischievous presence throughout – and Rowe peddle a brilliant line in posh one-liners, while Kay and Outhwaite provide pitch-perfect panic and painful petulance.

Though sometimes situation provides an easy laugh where characterisation might have added depth to the evening, Raving offers enough guffaw moments to make it worth booking a babysitter for. Just don’t spend the evening wondering how the children are. Or what the babysitter is doing. Or if you turned the oven off. Or if you left instructions. Or…


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