Paul T Davies reviews David Eldridge’s play In Basildon currently playing at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch.
Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch
16 March 2019
Launching the Essex on Stage programme, the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, have brought David Eldridge’s 2012 play In Basildon home to Essex. First staged at the Royal Court, Eldridge’s play about an Essex family and the tensions between them rings with authenticity, and the audience roared with laughter as they recognised their lives and location on stage. AS Len lays dying in a bed set up in his living room, his family gather, and from the off the bitterness and tension between his sisters, Maureen and Doreen, is palpable, and the schisms between the family is heightened as Ken, Len’s best mate, is tasked with carrying out Len’s last wishes and reading out his will. Nephew Barry and his wife Jackie are depending on being left the house, but what has caused the sisters to not speak for years? As they gather for the funeral and will reading, the final act, set in 1992, reveals the seeds of the argument, and provides an excellent overview of Britain and politics seen and experienced by working class people until 2010. So much still resonates, still pertinent, including worries about car manufacturing relocating, without the B word ever mentioned, it feels relevant and fresh.
It is performed by an excellent cast. Lucy Benjamin crackles with tension as Maureen, but is the more relaxed of the sisters, practical in her flirting with Ken, (brilliant, down to earth Essex man captured by Patrick Driver), carrying her bitterness like a shield. As Doreen, Beverley Klein conveys her neediness very well- it’s a tribute to the writing that you end the play judging none of the characters for their actions. As Barry, David Hemsted almost stole the show as the perfect personification of an Essex boy, no stereotype here, but a rounded character, matched by Emily Houghton as his wife Jackie- there is so much on the line for these two. Carrying aspirations for the family is Shelly, the first to go to University, and Charlotte Law resonated with me as the family member who leaves home and never really goes back. Although I found Tom, Shelly’s posh playwright boyfriend, a little broad, his patronising provoked laughter and scorn in brilliant measure from the audience. Similarly, Peter Temple’s Reverend is a performance of broad comedy, but hilarious, and he is beautifully poignant as Len in the last scene, about to be caught between two warring sisters, and we know he sacrificed his own hopes. Connie Walker has scene stealing moments as Pam next door, who always fancied Len, and gets her revenge on Doreen via jellied eels! Natasha Jenkins’s design, with the set blocked off by blackness on either side, makes you feel you’re spying and listening in on a real family.
The strength of director Douglas Rintoul’s excellent production is that it lets the play breathe, there are wonderful moments of poignancy and reflection among the arguments, and each line lands perfectly. But this happens because of Eldridge’s outstanding script, rooted in experience, authentic and genuine. Great to hear those voices on stage and the audience responding with recognition and warmth. I don’t know if I’ve lived in Essex long enough, (25 years), to be an “honorary” Essex man yet, but I loved being in their company. Go and see In Basildon in Essex- you’ll have a great time!
Until 30 March 2019