Theatre Review: Raving, Hampstead Theatre, London

Robert Webb and Tamzin Outhwaite in Raving

Robert Webb and Tamzin Outhwaite in Raving

Last time I was at the Hampstead Theatre I saw the riveting, moving Di and Viv and Rose, starring former EasterEnder Tamzin Outhwaite.

Tamzin’s back at the Hampstead Theatre once again, this time playing a wobbly-lipped mum on a mini-break in Wales with five people she doesn’t like very much (one of them being her husband) in Simon Paisley Day’s comedy of not so much errors as howling blunders.

Raving has been pretty much universally panned by the critics, all except the Daily Mail, whose theatre critic Quentin Letts thought it was a bona fide classic (‘bona fide’, by the way, has a small starring role in Raving), which is worse than all those two-star reviews.

Raving is not subtle; it’s like being hit over the head with a sledgehammer of stereotypes and Carry On worthy smut. At times, in fact most of the time, it’s crass, brash and utterly daft. The characters are straight out of the writers’ book of stereotypes; the set-up no more imaginative (three mish mashed couples in a holiday cottage in Wales); the plot – what there is of it – as revolutionary as an episode of Last of the Summer Wine. Throw in an ill advised sexual assault on a 17-year-old as a gag and you have, in theory anyway, the recipe for the year’s worst play.

But despite all that’s wrong with it, I rather enjoyed Raving. It’s easy, unchallenging and well acted theatre. It may not be clever, but it is, at times, funny, and while it may not say much about the human condition like, say, Ibsen, it says uncomfortably too much about the times we live in.

Tamsin Outhwaite is ‘neurotic’ (read: depressed, I did say it wasn’t subtle) Briony who along with her partner Keith (Barnaby Kay) are having their first weekend away together since the birth of their son, three-year-old Fin. Briony’s still breast feeding which is a source of several of the jokes, some better than others. Their impossibly perfect friends Ross (Russell Brand-botherer Robert Webb) and Sarah Hadland’s Rosy (those of the liberal pretensions, but Daily Mail heart) have organised the cottage in the Welsh countryside. Filling in for another couple at the last minute are poshos Charles (Nicholas Rowe) and Serena (Issy Van Randwyck) who Briony had minutes before their arrival been ranting about their awfulness. Cue one hell of a class clash. Ironically considering it’s five star review, the couple who the Daily Mail hold up as custodians of society (employed, white, middle class, stay-at-home mum) are the very ones who fall the furthest as they are exposed as the racist, snobbish, self-serving hypocrites they are behind the doors of their million-pound-plus homes.

To add to the melee of disorder is Serena’s niece Tabby who likes sex and drugs and talks like she’s sitting at the back of the N29. She’s more overdone than a burnt steak and about as appealing. She is a useful Eve to lure out Ross’s true character under that smug PR schtick, but otherwise a rather heavy handed distraction.

The ‘episode’ where Ross preys on her prone 17-year-old sleeping body is badly judged and, at best, distasteful, although justice of sorts if dished out to Ross whose future looks bleaker than the London November sky at 4pm.

This isn’t the only WTF moments in Raving, although it’s the most unappetising. Other niggles include how would resolutely middle class R&R know hunting-shooting-fishing Barber-wearing C&S? And why would Serena make a comment about being too far away from the ‘metropol’ when surely her and her red cord wearing husband’s natural inhabit is in a field?

Props must go to the actors who lift what could have been an embarrassment into an enjoyable two and a half hours of farce. Raving may be no masterpiece, but it’s a fun piece of very modern theatre with some laughing-into-the-back-of-your-hand moments mixed with some cringe-worthy clangers. This isn’t a play for everyone, but if you don’t mind full-on silliness and can look past the ‘erm, awkward’ parts it’s escapist fun.

by Suzanne Elliott

Theatre Review: Di and Viv and Rose, Hampstead Theatre

Di and Rose and Viv

Gina Mckee, Tamsin Outhwaite and Anna Marie Maxwell in Di and Viv and Rose

There’s nothing earth-shatteringly inventive or innovative about Amelia Bullmore’s tale of three women’s decade straddling friendship, but Di and Viv and Rose has more impact that most po-faced Plays With A Message. Absorbing and compelling, it fulfills the ultimate critical cliché of being snortingly funny (I confess to finding the more risqué lines especially funny imaging what the post-60 crowd – the vast majority of the audience – made of it) and mascara-troublingly sad. It was so moving in fact, that I struggled to gain my composure even as the lights came up.

Female friendship has been explored in books, films and plays before, although not as often, truthfully or as warmly as such a rich subject matter should demand. I was struck as I watched this how little I’ve seen honest, realistic portrayals of women, particularly on stage. There are even fewer with no agenda. Bullmore doesn’t ask us to judge her characters or force a theatrical lesson down our throats, we’re simply asked to laugh and cry along with these three young women whose friendship begins in the cold corridors of a university halls of residence in the 1980s and survives into the 21st century, conquering childbirth, an ocean, rape and heartbreak.

Di (Tamsin Outhwaite) is a straight-talking term-time lesbian (we never do learn whether she eventually comes out to her mum, but it’s not important) who brings bubbly sex-mad Rose and uptight bookish Viv together in their first year at university. The three mismatched friends go on to share a house where they eat food from wobbly bowls and drink-dance to Prince (the soundtrack is fantastic). But it’s not all warm and cosy; there’s a huge change of pace and tone as horrific real-life events force there way (literally) into the girls’ carefree world. The actors respond brilliantly to the jarring turn, absorbing the effect the events have on their characters without being mawkish or overly-dramatic.

All three actors were fantastic, I particularly warmed to Anna Marie Maxwell’s Rose whose posh frivolousness could have been deeply irritating but who Maxwell instilled with a hugely likable naivety and warmth. A lot is demanded of Outhwaite’s Di and the former EastEnders actress more than delivered; Di is no one dimensional ‘tough girl’, Outhwaite plays her with the right dose of vulnerability, self-belief and self-awareness. Gina McKee’s quietly ambitious Viv is an introvert with a steely confidence, you might not immediately warm to her but McKee’s natural gentleness will win you over (also, I LOVED her ‘war’ wardrobe, it was also a great way of moving the play away from being too much of an 80s period piece).

Di and Viv and Rose has finished its run at Hampstead Theatre, but I’ll bet you a Prince CD that it won’t be long before it makes it to the West End.

by Suzanne Elliott