Review: Barking in Essex, Wyndham’s Theatre ✭✭

There’s no denying Essex folk are the ‘in thing’, and a blinged up poster doused in pink frocks, gold chains, fur coats and a diamante logo certainly captures the imagination. It’s a pity the play doesn’t. That’s not to say this sugar-coated froth is not entertaining, at times it is, but Clive Exton’s new comedy is littered with so many cliches and dodgy loose-ends, it makes the entire cast of TOWIE look like a bunch of loveable Saints.

And there lies the problem. On the page, a bunch of self-obsessed unlovable rogues parading around bumping off strangers and loved ones in the blink of an eye has the potential to make for an insipid night at the theatre, but this is marginally rescued by the work of the wonderful cast who do their damnedest to inject as much oomph into this somewhat drip of a comedy.

Oddly, Sheila Hancock manages to create a layered character in Emmie Packer, a hard-nosed crime family mum, with quick wit and enough fizz to keep proceedings moving along, but there’s only so much even this gifted actress can do. Eldest son Darnley is played by funny man Lee Evans, who surprisingly holds back on his typical Norman Wisdom act, and although there are flickers of comedy genius here, rather predictably this poorly-written character eventually burns out. Keeley Hawes is perhaps the star of the show as Darnley’s wife Chrissie, a zany fame-obsessed Essex girl who is partial to the finer things in life, and a role played with a comic timing that hits the mark every time.

With all the will in the world, aside from the smart set design by Simon Higlett and the occasional laugh-out-loud punchy exchange, the daft plot and absurd ending ultimately lets this play down. And for such a talented cast and creative team, that’s criminal.

** ( 2 stars)
Runs until 4th January 2014
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