BARKING IN ESSEX
by Clive Exton.
Wyndham’s Theatre 32 Charing Cross Road WC2H 0DA To 4 January 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 482 5120.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 17 September.
West End looks east but goes west.
Take a typical comedy about crime, put it in reverse and something like the late Clive Exton’s Barking in Essex might emerge. It sees the Packers packing off to avoid their toughest member, Algie, as he returns from prison to discover they’ve spent the proceeds of his crimes instead of stashing them away.
They move from the garish elegance of their mansion to a cramped, dilapidated flat. Simon Higlett’s set has fun contrasting the sweeping staircase and bling-like décor of their garish house in the posh-lands of south Essex with the plain low-ceilinged box of the hideaway reached by back stairs. Yet even the wide-open room of their prosperity reaches back to a more congested space, suggesting show rather than substance.
The Packers are Barking in more ways than can be found on a map, completely sure of their own ideas, and so completely lacking self-awareness. Emmie reflects scabrously on people and events with happy confidence in her judgments. As for young Darnley, you’d think getting on Who Wants to be a Millionaire would be opportunity knocking in the face of Algie’s imminent return.
But Darnley, led by how he feels at any moment, ends-up thumping the show’s host. So the cupboard stays bare when Algie’s preceded by his attractive lawyer, and now lover. When she proves as tough as any criminal, desperate measures are called for, involving the neighbourhood hitman.
There’s a lot of swearing and one aspect of Harry Burton’s production is how different it seems in various mouths: vehement and judgmental from Keeley Hawes’ daughter Chrissie, naïve from Lee Evans’ Darnley, with,in contrast, a sophisticated lexicon from Sheila Hancock’s matriarch.
Hancock’s detailed delivery, timing and weighting of each word for maximum impact is a delight in itself, while Lee Evans provides hilarity in almost every move, with his second-act dance sequence the hilarious highlight.
But even they can’t sustain an evening out of cleverly spoken swearing. And with characters thin enough to make a wafer seem plump, the whole, despite some funny lines and occasional spurts of plot, ends-up as bogged-down as an Epping Forest bog.
Darnley Packer: Lee Evans.
Emmie Packer: Sheila Hancock.
Chrissie Packer: Keeley Hawes.
Rocco DiMaggio: Karl Johnson.
Allegra Tennyson: Montserrat Lombard.
Director: Harry Burton.
Designer: Simon Higlett.
Lighting: James Farncombe.
Sound: Gareth Owen.
Dialect coach: Richard Ryder.
Fight director: Terry King.
Assistant director: Jake Brunger.
Assistant lighting: Richard Statham.
Assistant sound: Zoe Blackford.