London Theatre reviews Barking in Essex
THREE STARS ***
Barking in Essex is a foul mouthed comedy farce that delights with its cast and shocks with its language; those offended by the constant use of the words “fuck off” and “cunt” will be somewhat upset from curtain up. But it is darkly delightful to see Shelia Hancock casually mouthing off obscenities as her character Emmie Packer packs in more swear words than an angry Gordon Ramsay on a rant.
The pace of this piece is engaging and certainly gives the audience entertainment, but it lacks anything challenging or innovative. The germ of the play, says the writer’s widow Mara Exton, took root when Clive was watching Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, and became fascinated by the fact that people who knew little or nothing but were very happy to show that off and feel good about it. This is clearly shown in the first scene when Darnley Packer (Lee Evans) relays back to his mum, Emmie Packer (Sheila Hancock), the way in which he failed miserably on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? When answering a question about what Little Bo Peep had lost; to which Darnley answered “dog”!
The plot centres on Darnley’s brother, Algie, who is about to be released from prison, and who plans to claim his loot which was stashed away in a safe after a robbery. We never get to see the antagonist, who is going to kill them all when he finds out the money has been spent (mostly by his adoring mother, Emmie). The family have no choice but to run from the criminal hands of Algie, but of course there is an unexpected visitor, and a few things to clean up before they can leave.
The opulent set used to represent the Packers’ Barking manor in act one, designed by Simon Higlett, is perfect and provides a typical wealthy crime driven family in Essex with touches of class mixed with a scattering of tackiness. You expect Dorian from Birds of a Feather to pop by for coffee, as this play resonates with the air of an 80s sit-com; it’s like an X-rated Birds of a Feather crossed with Only Fools and Horses on crack. The plot does not get much thicker than an episode of The Only Way Is Essex, but what sells this show is not the writing, plot or characters, but the opportunity to witness fine acting performances.
The second act moves us to another location, I won’t mention where so I don’t spoil the few twists and turns than unravel in act two. Lee Evans’ comedic genius is evident as he parades around outside in a camp Spanish matador’s outfit replete with castanets. He embodies Carmen Miranda and creates one of the few really laugh-out-loud belly laughs of the play when he forces Chrissie Packer, played by Keeley Hawes, to join in with his new way of making money as part of a duet called Los Dos Inglesas.
Harry Burton’s direction is smooth and pleasing coherent in most places. It could, however, do with some sharpening as the farcical and slick script sometimes overrides any space to allow the audience to connect or empathise with the characters, and does not allow us enough space to enjoy the jokes. The penultimate scene at the end of act two lacks dramatic tension when Darnley and Emmie Packer are alone in their modest hideaway, and Darnley has a loaded-gun. It seemed like an ideal opportunity to find another level of tension in the piece, but it felt too relaxed for this; though what comes next certainly wakes up the audience.
The story is tied up without any saccharine ending to the piece, and was very well executed by the writer. It’s a fun and enjoyable performance which benefits immensely by the audience being able to see a fine cast on stage having some fun.
Lee Evans delights in his role and embodies his character as Darnley Packer with great skill, careful not to underplay or overplay the usual sweaty and nervous high-energy Lee Evans we see in his own work.
www.barkinginessex.co.uk 0844 482 5120 Box opening hours Monday – Saturday 10am – 7.45pm
(10 – 6pm on Mondays until 2nd September)
Monday – Saturday 7.30pm
Thursday & Saturday 2.30pm
7 Sept – No matinee. 16 Sept – 7pm
Monday 23 December 7.30pm
Thursday 26 December 2.30pm & 7.30pm
Friday 27 December 7.30pm
Saturday 28 December 2.30pm & 7.30pm
Monday 30 December 7.30pm
Tuesday 31 December 2.30pm & 7.30pm
Wednesday 1 January 2014 7.30pm
Thursday 2 January 2.30pm & 7.30pm
Friday 3 January 7.30pm
Saturday 4 January 2.30pm & 7.30pm
6 – 19 September 2013
£42.50, £27.50, £22.50
September 2013 – 4 January 2014
£52.50, £37.50, £22.50
PREMIUM SEATS AVAILABLE – PLEASE CONTACT THE BOX OFFICE FOR DETAILS
Special rates available, call 0844 482 5100 for details
Charing Cross Road,
TRAVEL AND PARKING
train Charing Cross
underground Leicester Square, Charing Cross,
Holborn Buses: 24, 29, 176
MASTERPARK Cambridge Circus
ncp Bedfordbury & Upper St Martin’s Lane