Theatre Review - 'In Basildon'

Posted on: 15 March 2012 by Alexander Hay

Inheritance, domestic disharmony and the myth of place are explored with wit and striking honesty by David Eldridge in his absorbing new play In Basildon (Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre Downstairs), directed by Dominic Cooke

Hilarity ensues (and someone dies In Basildon)The play opens with 60-year-old Len dying of prostate cancer. At the age of 20, he moved out of East London and spent the rest of his working life at the Ford plant in Dagenham. Now his family have gathered round his death bed to say their final farewells.

His sisters Doreen and Maureen haven’t spoken to each other for neatly twenty years and both lay claim to a share of his property, his tax-fiddling plumber nephew Barry is trying for a baby with his terrifying wife Jackie, while his graduate niece Shelly isn’t interested in money at all and best mate Ken remembers “Bas-Vegas”, when it was a village.

The gathering is completed by Shelley’s posh left wing boyfriend, Tom, an aspiring playwright, whose ambition is to write “something that relates to ordinary working people,” although in reality it is a subject he patently does not understand at all.

Eldridge’s well crafted, insightful drama deals with love, death, greed and nostalgia, without ever resorting to sentimentality or the usual Essex stereotypes. The presence of a deathbed centre stage at the beginning leads us to believe we are in for a depressing evening.

But our expectations are quickly confounded as we get a laugh from the first minute, and although the comedy is laced with pain, it is frequently very funny, such as when Shelley describes Walthamstaw where she lives as “the village... it’s got a tapas and a deli” or the black vicar who comes round to discuss the funeral service and ends up getting ludicrously drunk.

Cooke draws exemplary performances from his great cast, especially Linda Bassett and Ruth Sheen as the feuding sisters Doreen and Maureen respectively and Lee Ross as the plain-spoken Barry. Also impressive are Peter Wright as Len’s easygoing, best friend Ken, Debbie Chazen as Barry’s dissatisfied wife Jackie, Jade Williams as Shelley, Max Bennett as Tom, Wendy Nottingham as the good-natured neighbour Pam with a secret or two to impart and Christian Dixon as the inebriate vicar.

In all then this is an acutely observed, resonant reflection on working-class family life that stands up to comparison with Wesker in his heyday, and a play which lingers in the mind long after the final curtain calls.

By Laurence Green

Runs until March 24

Box office: 0207 565 5000

Press: 0207 565 5063

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Alexander Hay

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