A WILD AND WICKED SWIPE AT MIDDLE-CLASS MORES
Goodness, this is funny! Uncontrollably so in the first scenes, before the tightly coiled spring of middle-class angst is released into anarchy and minor injuries. I suspect that after the first-night hysterics, director Ed Hall will be instructing his cast to leave more space for the laughs lest some of Simon Paisley Day’s lines are lost. Especially the snarled ones.
We are in a Welsh weekend cottage, booked by the briskly well-organized Ross and Rosy (Robert Webb a self-satisfied PR, Sarah Hadland of Miranda fame as his bossy pocket-dynamo of a wife). They are late because of an au-pair issue which will explode later. Their leftish friends Keith and Briony are there first, Barnaby Kay hapless, bearded and frustrated, Tamzin Outhwaite delivering a bravura monologue of stressed-out social paranoia. They left their son with Granny: Briony is still suckling him (another unexploded bomb in the plot), struggling with her breast pump and “not ready” to resume sex. The child, we learn, is three! She seethes with resentment at her hostess’ brisk batch-baking competence, and has forgotten her antidepressants.
As if this wasn’t enough, the hosts have invited a couple even less to Briony’s taste, the cheerfully posh Charles and Serena: he an ex-army dimbo (Nicholas Rowe) whose shotgun – yet another clue to the coming mayhem – drives Briony into hysterical disapproval. Not that Serena is inconsiderate: Issy van Randwyck, blithely authoritative, sees her horror and barks “Chas! Shooter! Car!” as if to a disobedient pointer. Van Randwyck indeed, a bright-eyed breezy touslehead, is one of the constant joys of the play, capturing exactly the competent and sexually cheerful upper-class matronliness which made Britain both great, and potentially very annoying. Cunningly, Paisley Day reveals that she is no airhead but a GP. “A hobby, reallah!”. Into the cottage erupt in turn a religiously devout Welsh farmer and Serena’s wild-child niece Tabby (Bel Powley, last seen in Jumpy, is making a nice corner in mouthy Jafaican teens with a subtle edge of pathos).
They interact, discussing among other things childrearing (“like dogs, stick to a training programme” says Charles, who has “four or five” while Briony agonizes over her one.) I did wonder, between giggles of recognition, whether it would move beyond sketch-comedy brilliance into a denser play. It does, though not in the Ayckbournian way I expected: more Joe Orton, indeed, in its robust rejection of pathos. Narrate the bare bones of Tabby’s situation, or the farmer’s, and you could find depths of pain. Paisley Day, wisely I think, doesn’t do any such thing.
He lets suspicion, booze, breast-milk, a druggy rave in the next field and two startlingly inappropriate sexual events culminate only in an armed hostage scene of edgy absurdity. If you insist on finding a moral in it, it is that even an enraged gun-wielding God-bothering Welsh farmer can be out-loonied any day by six middle-class London weekenders. As one observes, “We don’t need you. We can destroy ourselves”.