Raving is the theatrical equivalent of Blurred Lines - using the sexual assault of a young woman as source for comedy. As a result, I left Hampstead Theatre feeling sick to my stomach.
Though the assault isn't depicted until the beginning of the second half, there was little in the first half of this show that would lead me to recommend it
Raving is a sitcom, a supposed comedy of errors, where three city-dwelling couples who tick all the cliché stereotypical boxes go on a weekend away to a farmhouse in Wales.
There's the left-wing couple - Briony (Tamzin Outhwaite) and Keith (Barnaby Kay). They're both teachers, new parents with a one-year old baby, anti-hunting, Briony's a hysterical mess because her hormones are all over the place, Keith can't do a thing right and is desperate for sex but his wife doesn't want any etc. etc.
Then there's the Tory couple - Serena (Issy Van Ranwyck) and Charles (Nicholas Rowe). Upper class, they love hunting, own guns, frightfully posh, love killing partridges out on the hills and eating them for tea etc. etc.
And of course there's the perfect couple in the middle - Ross (Robert Webb) and Rosy (Sarah Hadland). Wealthy but they vote Liberal, attractive, slim, do yoga, sympathetic to everyone's situation and always the first to calm any brewing rows. The wife even thinks she managed to diffuse a situation with their former au pair who she had to sack for making unwanted sexual advances at her husband - though you don't have to be a genius to work out that her assumptions on that might be a bit naïve.
The first hour is a sharply directed fast-paced almost farcical comedy but the material - couples in mid-life crisis, breast pumps, sexual frustration, over-protective new parents, flings with pretty Eastern European au-pairs, lost mobile phones ("It's not a phone; it's a lifeline!") - is really quite dated.
So at the interval I was thinking I was just stuck watching a play riddled with clichés from below-average sitcoms from 20 years ago. But then in the second half, the play took a very dark turn.
Tabby, the niece of the Tory couple, gate-crashes the party. We know she's trouble because she swears a lot, drinks wine straight out of the bottle and does drugs. Tabby (Bel Powley) then does a disappearing act and everyone thinks she's gone to join the rave in the next valley. In a bid to rescue her from her own sin, most of the party go off to find her.
Whilst they're out looking for her, Tabby staggers back into the house, drunk and high, finding Ross, the guy who slept with his kids' au pair, alone. Tabby goes to bed, passing out under her covers naked. And it's then that Ross peers beneath the duvet at Tabby's naked body. With the young woman unconscious, he takes out her leg and starts to lick it.
Just to clarify - this girl is unconscious, unable to give any consent, and is therefore being sexually assaulted by a predator taking advantage of her situation.
The audience laughed; my jaw hit the floor. And it's not as if the tone of the play changed at this point. Not at all. Indeed when this little secret is revealed, one of the characters adds "she wouldn't have minded." Cue much mirth and rolling in the aisles from the audience.
The inference being, 'of course she wouldn't have minded because she's easy.' After all Tabby, this 17 year-old girl, sleeps with everyone so we can just assume her consent. Sick. Just really, really sick.
It's hard really to go on with any kind of balanced feedback on this production. In truth the second half just staggers along until its climax which everyone can see coming a mile off - the couple warring at the beginning turn out ok and the perfect couple end in crisis.
But profoundly, this isn't Benny Hill. This is a post-Saville age where the issue of rape culture, victim-blaming and the issue of consent is a daily subject across social media and news outlets. Only earlier this week there was uproar when the star Cee Lo Green was let off a rape charge despite the women he had sex with being unconscious, too drugged out of her head to give her consent.
I cannot fathom what on earth made the producers conclude this was appropriate material for a comedy. I left the theatre ashamed that so many people found this subject hilarious. You'd think we were progressing as a society but then Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines is still considered song of the year and worthy of a prime-time television spot on The X Factor so what the hell do I know?
Hampstead Theatre, London
To November 23, 2013