Review: West End play Barking in Essex

PUBLISHED: 09:00 21 September 2013

Lee Evans, Sheila Hancock and Keeley Hawes in Barking in Essex. Picture Shaun Webb

Lee Evans, Sheila Hancock and Keeley Hawes in Barking in Essex. Picture Shaun Webb


It’s just five minutes after the curtain came up on West End show Barking in Essex and already there’s been a slurry of expletives projected from the mouths of stars Lee Evans, Sheila Hancock and Keeley Hawes.

Lee Evans lets ripLee Evans lets rip

It’s a provocative opener to a play that starts as it means to go on.

Writer Clive Exton, who’s credits include TV dramas Poirot and comedy serial Jeeves and Wooster, shows a particular penchant for the c-word (among many others) and its use is unmissably liberal.

The playwright penned this black comedy in 2005, two years before his death, and seems to have combined both his skill in writing comedy-dramas and thrillers.

However, there is none of the suspenseful smarts of the Belgian detective nor the like-ability of Wooster and his steadfast valet in the central characters of Barking in Essex now showing at the Wyndhams Theatre.

Barking in Essex at Wyndham's Theatre  Sheila Hancock as Emmie, Lee Evans as Darnley, Keeley Hawes as Chrissie,Barking in Essex at Wyndham's Theatre Sheila Hancock as Emmie, Lee Evans as Darnley, Keeley Hawes as Chrissie,

Rather, the depth of Exton’s plot could be plumbed with a toe as he ridicules the aching stupidity of his central characters, each of whom is as selfish and dim-witted as the next.

Freedom finally beckons for Darnley’s brother Algie after seven years in prison and now he’s coming home to spend his carefully stashed £3.5million in cash, but there’s something Algie’s family is eager he doesn’t find out.

Despite the shallow plot there aren’t moments of genuine hilarity. If you’re a fan of Lee Evans then you’ll enjoy his take on the hapless and moronic Darnley Packer.

The popular funnyman uses all his slapstick and gurning know-how to bring the house down, often without even so much as a word.

Roars of laughter also echo around the room whenever Sheila Hancock, who plays the matriarchal head of the dysfunctional Packers, lets out a sharply timed profanity completely out of keeping with her position as one of this country’s most revered actresses.

Spooks star Keeley Hawes’s character Chrissie, wife to Darnley, is undoubtedly the most fatuous and yet deceiving of the cast, with the majority of the play’s healthy smattering of swear words flowing forth from her garrulous gob.

While the play is shallow it does go along at a pace and still manages to surprise with a dramatic and visceral ending.

The two sets do a good job at highlighting the groups increasing desperation to escape the wrath of their unhinged relative now back from prison and eager to collect the money he thought safely stashed away with mum.

This is not a fun night out for all the family but a good chance for mum and dad to let their hair down for a night, as long as they don’t mind hearing more swearing than Gordon Ramsay after stubbing his toe.

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