IN BASILDON To 24 March.


by David Eldridge.

Royal Court (Jerwood Theatre Downstairs) Sloane Square SW1W 8AS To 24 March 2012.

Mon-Sat 7.30 Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 24 March 2.30pm.
Captioned 21 March,
Post-show Discussion 6, 13 March.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.

TICKETS 020 7565 -5000.
Review: Carole Woddis 25 February.

Telling the truth about Essex.
Essex man and Essex woman have been the butt of easy media jibes for the best part of two decades. David Eldridge is a brave man to take on the stereotype and look at some greater truths behind it. But he has done so, and with some success.

The scene is set around a death-bed, a sure-fire dramatic device for setting alight long held family feuds. Two sisters – Doreen and Maureen – gather around dying brother Len and glare at each other with a hatred that would stop a Mafioso in his tracks.

Like any playwright worth his salt, Eldridge keeps the reason for this feud a secret until the bitter end. Although the final reckoning doesn’t quite explain everything that has gone before, it works a treat as a suspense builder.

Essentially a family drama of money and inheritance, In Basildon emerges as a portrait not only of a family at strife but also as a funny, sharp defence of those who gravitated towards Essex from London’s East End seeking something better. In the process, Eldridge also takes a healthy swipe at left-leaning liberal guilt, which both condescends and romanticises its residents.

There are some bravura passages – and some over-egged ones in Dominic Cooke’s otherwise entertaining and beautifully acted production, as Peter Wight’s `authentic Basildon’ resident and Len’s best friend, Ken, locks horns with Doreen (the ineffably wonderful Linda Bassett) and her soft plumber’s-mate son, Barry.

Barry is really the core of Eldridge’s show. None too bright, a bit of a racist, Eldridge gives him heart and soul. For all his failings, Barry has tried to keep the peace between the two intransigent sisters and the generational fallout that has ensued.

Cooke’s Mike Leighesque approach comes close to turning Eldridge’s sympathetic portrait of white working-class, ‘Daily Mail’/’Sun’, once-Labour voting, now conservative heartland, into sometimes all too easy caricature.

Despite which, in Ian McNeil’s traverse setting, Eldridge’s tender play is saved by the truthfulness of the performances and the skill he brings to bear re-humanising characters caught out by greed, resentment and disappointment. It almost makes you want to cheer.

Doreen: Linda Bassett.
Maureen: Ruth Sheen.
Barry: Lee Ross.
Pam: Wendy Nottingham.
Ken: Peter Wight.
Jackie: Debbie Chazen.
Shelley: Jade Williams.
Tom: Max Bennett.
Reverend David Williams: Christian Dixon.
Len: Phil Cornwell.
Young Shelley: Tess Fontaine/Meg Reynolds.

Director: Dominic Cooke.
Designer: Ian MacNeil.
Lighting: Guy Hoare.
Sound: Paul Arditti.
Costume: Nicky Gillibrand.
Dialect coach: Penny Dyer.
Fight director: Bret Yount.
Assistant director: Caitlin McLeod.

In Basildon was first performed at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs on 16 February 2012.

2012-03-02 09:26:05

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