Review: In Basildon
Image courtesy Queen's Theatre Hornchurch
Lucy Benjamin - Maureen
Peter Bray - Tom
Patrick Driver - Ken
David Hemsted - Barry
Emily Houghton - Jackie
Beverley Klein - Doreen
Charlotte Law - Shelley
Peter Temple - Len/Reverend David
Connie Walker - Pam
Lucy Mae Stride
Len is a die-hard West Ham supporter who proudly made a career at Ford Dagenham.
Now he's on his deathbed with the nearest and dearest gathered to say goodbye.
His sisters, slogging away on the checkouts at Asda Romford and Tesco Basildon, haven't spoken in 20 years.
Over a ham sandwich spread, the banter soon flows and old animosities emerge as it's time to read the will …
A sharply funny play, charting an East End family's history from the homelands of Hackney, via Romford, to Basildon and beyond.
Written by Romford playwright David Eldridge (Market Boy, National Theatre; Beginning, West End), this explosively knotty drama is being brought back to its roots after a 2012 premiere at the Royal Court Theatre.
When I saw David Eldridge's In Basildon at the Royal Court Theatre back in 2012, my only reservation centred on the nature of the final act in comparison with the rest of the play.
Seeing it again, there's still a difficult gear shift at the end that delivers a completely different (and less satisfying) tone and atmosphere to a play that otherwise has all the ingredients to satisfy the most demanding taste.
Let's leave the ending for now and return to the humorously rich content that we find in the other three acts of what is, in spite of my picky note, a highly entertaining comedy drama.
It all starts with brilliant opening lines (spoken almost through clenched teeth) from 2 sisters who haven't seen or spoken to each other in 20 years and who, we learn a little later, have been embroiled in a hate-hate relationship.
"Hello Maureen," says Doreen.
"Hello Doreen", replies Maureen.
Len and his sister Doreen have lived together for a considerable time.
Doreen is now looking after Len who is dying of cancer - prompting this reunion between Maur and Dor, as they are affectionately known in the family circle.
Len lies comatose in a hospital-style bed that sits in the middle of a living room in a house in Basildon.
Also attending the last moments of Len's life is his long-time pal Ken, who claims to be "authentic Basildon", and his nephew Barry.
And we also find neighbour Pam - who seems to have the hots for Len - scurring around making tea and such before she is abruptly banished to her home next door by Doreen.
Having worked in Basildon for more than a decade, and having lived in Vange (a district mentioned in the script) for a time too, this play brings memories flooding to back to me of both the town and its inhabitants.
Once famously dubbed "Little Moscow down the Thames" because of its council's socialist leanings, the town and the surrounding area attracted waves of new arrivals, often people coming from London's East End looking for a better life.
In earlier times, development was on something of an ad hoc basis - Ken claims his father built their house in the area - but gathered pace when Basildon was designated a New Town, causing a large influx of new residents.
Though the play is peppered with references to all things Basildonian, it also reflects the heritage and origins of its inhabitants.
And airing the play in Hornchurch - closer to its titular home - adds a different dimension to the play since the local audience have much to connect with - far more so than when I caught the play in its initial airing back at the Royal Court, which attracts a rather different kind of audience.
In that sense, Queen's Theatre has successfully (and rightly) brought the play closer to its contextual roots - even wandering round the venue during the interval I heard voices that could easily find parts in the play.
Director Douglas Rintoul opts for a box set that sits isolated within the overal stage area, ably focusing our attention on the family-centric action.
Perfectly-cast, Mr Rintoul's well-paced and faithful production manages to extract every morsel of humour from David Eldridge's well-observed script thanks to riveting work from both Lucy Benjamin as Maureen, and Beverley Klein as the more caustic Doreen.
Patrick Driver also impresses immensely as Ken, intent on seeing that Len's wishes are carried out - even in the singing of "I'm forever blowing bubbles" at his point of departure from life.
Now back to the ending ...
The conclusion is all about explanations - what happened in the back story between Maur and Dor.
David Eldridge (rather cleverly) doesn't actually dot every i and cross every t, even if he provide the basics for us to easily piece together the puzzle.
But it's the change in tone we find in the denouement which almost throws us into a different kind of play than the one we've revelled in up to that point and, for some, it might be too much of a shock, even though it's pretty evident why it has to be that way.
Final moments aside, though, this is still a well-crafted, very funny and hugely appealing play that evoked continual chuckling from the audience - and from me too.
Moreover, it has plenty of recognisable relevance even for those hailing from more far-flung places than the county of Essex, and is most definitely well-worth catching.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Queen's Theatre Hornchurch
Our show listing for In Basildon
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