Writer David Eldridge, director Dominic Cooke and actors Debbie Chazen and Peter Wight in discussion with the Royal Court’s Diversity Associate, Ola Animashawun.… Read more
Len’s on his death bed and the family gather to say their final farewells. His sisters still aren’t speaking after nearly 20 years, his nephew’s trying for a baby – and a bigger house, while his best mate Ken remembers ‘Bas-vegas’ when it was a village. As the spread is laid out and the ham sandwiches sit next to the wreaths, it’s hard to see who’s hungry and who’s just greedy.
An epic family drama exploring inheritance and the myth of place.
David Eldridge was last at the Royal Court with Under the Blue Sky. His recent credits include Knot of the Heart at the Almeida Theatre, The Stock Da’wa at Hampstead Theatre, The Lady From The Sea for the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, A Thousand Stars Explode in the Sky with Robert Holman and Simon Stephens for the Lyric Hammersmith, Market Boy at the National Theatre and Festen at the Almeida and West End.
Artistic Director of the Royal Court Dominic Cooke directs. His recent credits include Chicken Soup with Barley and the multi award-winning production of Clybourne Park for which he was nominated for an Olivier Award. Clybourne Park, which won writer Bruce Norris a Pulitzer Prize, opened at the Royal Court in September 2010 to critical acclaim before transferring to the West End.
Other credits at the Royal Court include Aunt Dan and Lemon, The Fever, Seven Jewish Children, Wig Out!, Now or Later, Rhinoceros and two plays in Mark Ravenhill’s Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat. His credits elsewhere include Arabian Nights and Noughts and Crosses, both for the RSC, as adapter and director. He won the Olivier award for Best Director and Best Revival for The Crucible. He will be making his National Theatre debut later this year, directing The Comedy of Errors.
Running time 2hrs 30mins approx, incl. one interval
£10 Monday tickets available on the day of perf from 9am online, 10am in-person.
An in-person waiting list for returns operates from 1hr before each performance.
Four £5 restricted view tickets are sold 1hr before each performance, with half the stage obscured and a speaker next to the seat.
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Select a Date
Dates in February
|Thu 16 Feb 2012||7:30pm||Concessions Available, Preview Performance||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Fri 17 Feb 2012||7:30pm||Concessions Available, Preview Performance||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Sat 18 Feb 2012||7:30pm||Concessions Available, Preview Performance||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Mon 20 Feb 2012||7:30pm||Preview Performance||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£10. Tickets released 9am|
|Tue 21 Feb 2012||7:30pm||Concessions Available, Preview Performance||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Wed 22 Feb 2012||7:00pm||Press Night||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Thu 23 Feb 2012||7:30pm||Concessions Available||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Fri 24 Feb 2012||7:30pm||Concessions Available||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Sat 25 Feb 2012||2:30pm||Concessions Available, Saturday Matinees||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Sat 25 Feb 2012||7:30pm||Concessions Available||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Mon 27 Feb 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£10|
|Tue 28 Feb 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Wed 29 Feb 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
Dates in March
|Thu 1 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Fri 2 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Sat 3 Mar 2012||2:30pm||Concessions Available, Saturday Matinees||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Sat 3 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Mon 5 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£10|
|Tue 6 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Post-Show Talk||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Wed 7 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Thu 8 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Fri 9 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Sat 10 Mar 2012||2:30pm||Concessions Available, Saturday Matinees||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Sat 10 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Mon 12 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£10|
|Tue 13 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Post-Show Talk||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Wed 14 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Thu 15 Mar 2012||2:30pm||Concessions Available, Mid-Week Matinee||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Thu 15 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Fri 16 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Sat 17 Mar 2012||2:30pm||Concessions Available, Saturday Matinees||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Sat 17 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Mon 19 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£10|
|Tue 20 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Wed 21 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Captioned Performance||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Thu 22 Mar 2012||2:30pm||Concessions Available, Mid-Week Matinee||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Thu 22 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Fri 23 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Sat 24 Mar 2012||2:30pm||Concessions Available, Audio Described Performance, Saturday Matinees||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Sat 24 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Mon 26 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£10|
|Tue 27 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Wed 28 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Thu 29 Mar 2012||2:30pm||Concessions Available, Mid-Week Matinee||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Thu 29 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Fri 30 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Sat 31 Mar 2012||2:30pm||Concessions Available, Saturday Matinees||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Sat 31 Mar 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
Dates in April
|Mon 2 Apr 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£10|
|Tue 3 Apr 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Wed 4 Apr 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
|Thu 5 Apr 2012||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs||£28, £20, £12|
Sold out Performances
Mondays all seats £10 (available on the day of perf from 9am online, 10am in-person.)
Concessions £5 off top two prices (available in advance for all performances until 25 Feb inclusive and all matinees. For all other performances, available on a standby basis on the day)
25s and under £8 (ID required, not bookable online)
School and HE Groups of 8+ 50% off top two prices (available Tuesday–Friday, not bookable online)
Groups of 6+ £5 off top price (available Tuesday–Friday, not bookable online)
Access £12 (plus a companion at the same rate)
£5 restricted view tickets available from one hour before each performance, with half the stage hidden from view and a music speaker next to the seat.
REVEREND DAVID WILLIAMS
4 stars The Guardian by Michael Billington, 23 February
Basildon has always been a key political barometer. But, although David Eldridge’s riveting new play has its roots in this allegiance-shifting Essex town, he also uses it to explore the rancour, grudge-bearing and obsession with property among migrant East End families. The result is the best play about British working-class life since Peter Gill’s The York Realist.
Eldridge starts with a tribal gathering around the dying body of Len: a middle-management figure at Fords at Dagenham whose parents hailed from Hackney. But Len’s death intensifies, rather than heals, the divisions in the family. His two sisters, Doreen and Maureen, have not spoken in 20 years and spit their venom, albeit obliquely, over his corpse. And although their respective children, a debt-ridden plumber and a graduate female teacher, refuse to carry on the vendetta, its shadow still hangs over them. The mood only darkens when the dead man’s best mate, Ken, reads out his friend’s revised will during a traumatic wake.
A final scene, flashing back to 1992 to explain the source of the sisters’ hatred, lowers the dramatic temperature a bit. But Eldridge writes about the emergence of the new Tory working-class without a hint of patronage or condescension: there is a particularly telling moment when Maureen’s daughter’s boyfriend lectures a council worker about the need for cultural uplift and is roundly told that, after wiping the arses of the aged and infirm all day, you’re entitled to chill out with Corrie or Strictly Come Dancing.
If Eldridge’s play has echoes of Arnold Wesker, who wrote his own play about Basildon called Beorhtel’s Hill, or of DH Lawrence, in the laying-out of a corpse, they are the right ones. And this richly observant play is given a near-perfect production by Dominic Cooke who, with designer Ian MacNeil, restructures the Court so that the audience, like the family, is divided in two. Linda Bassett and Ruth Sheen as the warring siblings, Peter Wight as a defiantly local patriot (“I’m authentic Basildon”), Wendy Nottingham as a loving neighbour and Max Bennett and Jade Williams as the cultural outsiders also give first-rate performances. Eldridge may not endorse Essex’s new rightwing materialism but he records it with absolute fidelity. 4 stars The Telegraph by Charles Spencer, 23 February 2012
When he took over as artistic director of the Royal Court, Dominic Cooke said he wanted to stage plays that reflected the concerns of the largely middle-class audience that attend this theatre in affluent Sloane Square.
He has been true to his word – the theatre has been richer and more ambitious in its choice of plays.
This fine new piece by David Eldridge, however, sees a return to good old-fashioned working-class drama. It also seems to look back to the Royal Court’s landmark productions, in particular the early plays of Arnold Wesker, and its rediscovery of the domestic mining-community dramas of DH Lawrence.
What makes In Basildon such a success, though, is Eldridge’s sharp and witty ear for demotic dialogue, and a cracking plot.
At the start of the play, 60-year-old Len, a single man who has spent his life working for Ford, is dying of cancer. His two sisters, who haven’t spoken to each other for almost 20 years, come together over his deathbed, but largely converse through third parties with a festering sense of grievance.
With great skill, Eldridge brings to life a big family as well as a couple of close friends of Len. The bickering, the shifting alliances and the great will-reading scene in this cleverly constructed four-act drama – set in 2010 but with a coda that flashes back to 1992 – all combine sharp humour with dramatic clout. This is one of those too rare plays in which you really want to understand the secrets of the characters and learn what will happen next.
Rarer still is the fact that several characters speak with warmth about Margaret Thatcher, who appealed so strongly to many denizens of Essex. Better yet, the patronising, right-on values of an upper-middle-class young man who is going out with Len’s university-educated niece are mocked ferociously, even though I am sure they are shared by many in the Royal Court audience.
Cooke directs a gripping, admirably acted production. Linda Bassett and Ruth Sheen chillingly capture the corrosive resentment of the sisters, while Lee Ross (as Bassett’s son) and Debbie Chazen (as his wife) hilariously lay bare an unhappy marriage blighted by infertility and fecklessness.
There are also funny, touching turns from Peter Wight as Len’s best friend, and Wendy Nottingham as one of his former lovers.
Eldridge both knows and understands his flawed but far from contemptible characters, and there is an underlying compassion here that never curdles onto sentimentality. 4 stars The Times by Libby Purves, 23 February 2012
It gets a laugh in the first minute, despite the presence of a deathbed. The giggle meets the opening line as a well-dressed blonde (Ruth Sheen) is greeted coldly by her dowdier sibling (Linda Bassett, ginger with grey roots). “Hello Maureen” . “Hello Doreen”. The chiming makes the laugh uneasy: are we at this arena (it is done in the round) to mock the lower-middles? Cue another chime: the dying man is Len, his jokey best friend, Ken.
But no: the Basildon family, whose parents fled East End squalor in the Thirties to build homes in Essex, are not a target but the medium for a reflection on any family and tribal absurdity.
The playwright David Eldridge quotes Wesker, who said of Roots, “I am at one with these people. It is only that I am annoyed, with them and myself”.
Eldridge’s exasperated affection and pitch-perfect observation carry the same spirit. If he laughs, it is as Coward laughed at his fellow social butterflies, with the same painful understanding.
The comedy is at times considerable, as love, death, home and inheritance can spark passions powerful enough to propel whole bowls of jellied eels from funeral table to an enemy’s hairdo, and a sharp script is directed with spot-on timing by Dominic Cooke.
But there is not a shred of dishonest feeling : even as Ken (Peter Wight) joshes along and deplores the women’s feuding, he is caught by a tremor of real grief; and when a brief amnesty has all the family “sing Len into the night” with his football anthem, I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles, and the two sisters lay him out, you can hear a pin drop.
Thence to funeral preparations (you don’t often see a ludicrous, drunk black vicar on stage, which is brave), a surprising will and a final flashback explaining the sisters’ hostility. The rising generation are beautifully drawn: tax-fiddling plumber Barry and his stroppy wife (Lee Ross and a terrifying Debbie Chazen) are set against his graduate cousin Shelley.
She has not only shacked up with a hilariously cartoonish Guardianista, Tom (Max Bennett), but to the mystification of the Essex family with their proud legend of escaping the East End, she lives in Walthamstow “the village … it’s got a tapas bar and a deli”.
Tom, in a forgivable theatrical in-joke, wants to write plays as a voice for the “workers”, whose reality he patently does not understand at all.
He states lofty revulsion at the bourgeois ways of the National Theatre: “I walked away! Broke into a run! Like Maupassant from the Eiffel Tower. Horrified!”. The Royal Court audience loved that.
4 stars Critic’s Choice
Evening Standard by Henry Hitchings, 23 February 2012
The Royal Court under Dominic Cooke has tended to concentrate on middle-class experience. But David Eldridge’s new play offers a juicy slice of working-class Essex.
Rather than the familiar imagery of Towie or Birds Of A Feather, Eldridge serves up something closer to Chekhov – albeit with a meaty Essex twist. This a play about inheritance and domestic disharmony, at times deeply poignant yet replete with references to West Ham and Walthamstow’s defunct dog track.
At the outset the focus is the sickbed of 60-year-old Len, who is dying of prostate cancer. Aged 20, he moved out of east London; he has since devoted his working life to the Ford plant at Dagenham. Now, as he fades away, he is surrounded by his family.
They are in conflict – at first discreet, later violent – about his legacy. His sisters Doreen (Linda Bassett) and Maureen (Ruth Sheen), who haven’t spoken in years, can both lay claim to a share of his property. But others also have expectations: Doreen’s plain-spoken son Barry, Maureen’s upwardly mobile daughter Shelley, and, as it turns out, even good-natured neighbour Pam. Presiding over formalities is Len’s playful best friend Ken (Peter Wight). As the banter flows, old animosities mingle with more recent political and social tensions.
After a few too many drinks Shelley’s posh boyfriend Tom, an aspiring playwright, expounds his hilariously patronising ambition to write “something that relates to ordinary working people”. Through Tom, Eldridge comments trenchantly on matters of class.
Cooke’s production, intimately staged in the round, is finely crafted. Wight, Sheen and Bassett all deliver heavyweight performances, and there is vividly compelling work from Lee Ross as Barry.
Eldridge’s script contains moments of pungent humour. Yet it’s not just a chorus of guffaws.
Instead of recycling stereotypes, he probes or shatters them. The results aren’t always easy to watch, but this is a piece packed with unsettling symmetries. A tepid final act adds little, fleshing out a backstory that needn’t be made so explicit. In this last phase the drama loses some of its momentum and fizz. Still, In Basildon is scrupulously observed, and the acting is first-rate. 4 stars Time Out by Caroline McGinn, 23 February 2012
For most of us these days, dying is a medicated shut-down of your ageing body, whose physical agony is mercifully palliated but whose finality is stark, often unsoftened by religious consolation. Small wonder that writers approach the contemporary hospital deathbed in a vein that’s as grimly ironic as the tube that takes the piss out of you when you can no long get up to go to the bathroom.
‘In Basildon’ opens at one such close. In an Essex home, estranged middle-aged sisters Doreen and Maureen are slagging each other off over the limp human centrepiece of their brother Len, who lies wired-up on a temporary bed, detached from the spectacular obnoxiousness which his death and more importantly his will have brought into his sitting room.
Staged in-the-round by Dominic Cooke it’s a terrific opening: intimate, flawlessly acted, and horribly funny. But Eldridge, whose Romford background served him pungently and well in 2006 NT hit ‘Market Boy’, isn’t content to tell the story of one family: ‘In Basildon’ is an ambitious, ambivalent attempt to capture white working-class Essex, in all its mouthy embattled glory.
Two laureates of East End-facing working class naturalism, Arnold Wesker and Mike Leigh, tussle for the soul of Eldridge’s richly estuarine new drama – personally, I wish Leigh had won more rounds. ‘Abigail’s Party’ hovers over the blackly comic first and final acts – Leigh’s play gets its rightful nod from Len’s friend Ken, Eldridge’s biggest, most admirable character (played with ease, authority and a ribald sense of fun by the excellent Peter Wight).
But the middle acts are weakened by the Wesker-like introduction of Len’s niece’s writer boyfriend, Tom, brilliantly played by Max Bennett. The central confrontation – Tom’s row with Thatcherite pensioner Ken – would hit closer to home if they were father and son. Instead, Tom is a posh socialist interloper who turns Len’s wake into an awkwardly dialogued collective history essay by asking questions like: ‘What happened when an old Anglo-Saxon country was faced with mass-migration out of the East End of London?’
Tom’s broadsides against the ‘middle-class’ NT audience are hilarious. But – drunk, idealistic, and educated – he is an outsider who is too much like the audience. He comes between us and Eldridge’s ‘I’m authentic Basildon’ characters. And, when the funeral spread veers briefly into an impromptu focus group on why Ken, Maureen, Doreen, Doreen’s luckless son Barry and his horny checkout-worker wife Jackie don’t vote Labour, we risk scrutinising the ‘Bas-Vegas’-dwellers like specimens, instead of feeling for them as humans.
It’s great to have rich ideas onstage as well as characters. Cooke’s production and Eldridge’s play are brilliant as well as uneven. Ruth Sheen and Linda Bassett are gorgeously lugubrious as Len’s sour-gobbed sisters. And, although the director allows Christian Dixon to go way off-palette as a silly billy vicar, the cast make the most of Eldridge’s fantastically marshy dialogue, much of which should be written down and reserved for future deployment. Neighbour being an ‘alka-seltzer in the arse’? Tell her to shit in her hat and punch it. That’s what they’d do ‘In Basildon’ 4 stars Independent by Paul Taylor, 23 February 2012
Eldridge’s admirable aim is to give a platform to the white working classes of his native Essex who, in committing the sin of tending towards the right wing in their sympathies, are denied a hearing by the lumpenly liberal theatrical establishment. As a proletarian kid who won a scholarship to a posh fee-paying school, Eldridge is in a prime position to tackle this material from the double perspective of comic detachment and raw, painful ambivalence.
The play is set in November 2010, in the large living room of a semi-detached house in Basildon. On a centrally placed bed is sixty-year-old Len, who is sinking, unconscious, into death, circled by his warring family; the bit on the side from next door, and (a wonderful comic creation, beautifully played by Peter Wight) his bumptious best friend Ken who fancies himself as a fancy man and competitively trumps Len’s nearest and dearest by having all the latest gen on the soon-to-be-late Len’s last wishes. These range from the request that “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” be sung over the corpse of this die-hard West Ham supporter to news of a will that was changed at the eleventh hour and is to be read out by Ken at the wake. A lot hangs on this for those family members who have great-ish expectations over the disposition of the house. They include Maureen (excellent Ruth Sheen) and Doreen (the incomparable Linda Bassett), the sisters who became murderously estranged from one another as result of how Len (mis?)-used the house when he was alive, as we discover properly in the aching final scene that jumps back to 1992. The expected bequest might also ease the problems of Len’s troubled nephew, Barry, a reformed wild card, compellingly played by Lee Ross, and his large, loudmouth spouse Jackie (Debbie Chazen) who puts their inability to conceive down to residence-related “stress”.
Eldridge has a wonderful ear for dialogue that typifies the quirks and quiddiities of this tribe — as, for example, when Pam from next door (lovely Wendy Nottingham), who is preparing the “spread”, announces that “The kettle’s boiled and the glasses are on the nice tray” and he has an Ibsen-like gift for bringing to the surface the intricate emotional under-webbing of the past. But in placing the audience on two sides of the action (as in the recent boxing drama Sucker Punch) the production makes the characters look, from the circle, like specimens under a microscope. And Ken, who rightly gives Labour a large share of the blame for the current crisis, is able to score points too easily off the condescending self-deception off the young Oxbridge banker’s son (Max Bennett) who is too much this play’s crude fall-guy in his mission to represent the masses. Otherwise, very warmly recommended. 4 stars The Express by Paul Callan, 24 February 2012
THERE is much dark humour in David Eldridge’s new play – a journey into family dysfunction, class, envy, unforgiving anger and grief. Not natural subjects for laughter admittedly but so skilfully written that there was much noisy chortling in the dear old Royal Court.
Mr Eldridge – himself an Essex boy – places the action in Basildon, one of those cartoonish towns that, like Neasden, often get a snooty snigger when mentioned. It was to such places that thousands fled the anguish of the East End in the Thirties to build new homes and hope.
Here dear old Len is on his deathbed, surrounded by family and his best mate Ken (an excellent Del-Boyish performance by Peter Wright). But dominating the opening scene are Maureen and Doreen, sisters who have not spoken for years and who still regard one another with sneering suspicion.
The years have clearly treated the formidable blonde Maureen better than her shrewish sister Doreen, she of the worn-out looks and the grey roots. Ruth Sheen (Maureen) and Linda Bassett (Doreen) turn in remarkable performances of aggravation and growling anger, particularly when it comes to inheritance from the late Len’s will.
Such resentments exist in many families irrespective of the social scale and in this lower- middle-class saga it is also a question of tribal loyalties. It’s family, innit?
There are some highly comic touches – such as the hurling of a bowl of jellied eels at Doreen (that woman has a tongue on her) by infuriated neighbour Pam, who had enjoyed a romance with Len (“he stirred the porridge”).
Class also rears its head with the arrival of Maureen’s graduate daughter Shelley (“the only member of the family to go to university”) and her posh boyfriend Tom (a skilful parody by Max Bennett). He is a would-be writer yearning to provide “a voice” for the workers – a desire that just puzzles all the others.
Nor is there much mutual admiration between the couple and VAT-fiddling plumber Barry and his daunting wife Jackie (a brace of memorable performances by Lee Ross and Debbie Chazen).
Director Dominic Cooke has a firm hand on the timing which drives the production. My only quibble is the unnecessary final scene explaining why the sisters fell out. We had learnt much of that in an otherwise flawless evening.
The Observer by Susannah Clapp, 26 February 2012
Anywhere but Essex, it seems. “He’s a writer,” an aspirant character in David Eldridge’s new play explains of her boyfriend. “What’s he going to do in Basildon?” Going into the Royal Court, a theatrical acquaintance lamented that he could not persuade any of his friends to accompany him to In Basildon – no one wanted to be near that place.
They were wrong. The sniffed-at county is home territory and fertile dramatic ground for Eldridge – his 2006 play Market Boy was inspired by the time he spent as a boy working on a stall in Romford market – who now dissects its regions and shifting population with ferocious precision. In Basildon features a family who have moved from Hackney and across Essex, and mostly to the right politically. They are in each other’s pockets and at each other’s throats. A pair of middle-aged sisters with chiming names – “Hello Maureen,” “Hello Doreen” – have been feuding for years; a young woman, full of contempt for the family’s first graduate, is also gearing herself up (Debbie Chazen pouts this perfectly) to resent her mother-in-law.
Property is at the root of their quarrelling, and this makes In Basildon a play driven by politics. It is to Eldridge’s great credit that you realise this only afterwards. His dialogue (except, weirdly, the speeches that come out of the mouth of the writer character) is so corking that for much of the time In Basildon passes itself off as a richly enjoyable play about family dysfunction, in which there is always a haplessly suggestive next-door neighbour to proclaim: “My spread is open…”
There’s immaculate acting here. Not least from Linda Bassett – who looks as if every bit of juice has been suctioned out of her – and Lee Ross, who turns without warning from snarl to guffaw, and sits always leaning forward as if ready to pounce. The opening scene – patient, extraordinary – shows the meticulousness of Dominic Cooke’s production, which echoes the whispering resonance of Eldridge’s text. On Ian MacNeil’s radically reconfigured stage the audience look down from both sides to a man in bed: he is waxy, surrounded by relatives and friends who, haggard with gloom and hostility, can’t stop stumbling into jokes, out-of-place flirtations and wrangles. After a time, sounds seep into the air: a tiny persistent scratching and then a courteously restrained gurgle. Both noises are so gentle and unheralded that it takes a while to realise that they are coming not from the inside of one’s head but from the stage. And that this is the sound of death. 4 stars Sunday Express by Mark Shenton, 26 February 2012
This is a week for family legacies to take centre stage in the theatre. Desperate fall-outs that occur over the inheritance of property drive the plots of a riveting new play from Essex-born playwright David Eldridge and a classic by Russian master Anton Chekhov, with the latter given a superb Irish-accented makeover by Brian Friel.
Eldridge’s In Basildon is a nuanced and affecting family drama that offers a powerful portrait of adult sisters who are reunited at the deathbed of their dying brother, but whose relationship died long ago. Staged with a compelling intimacy and urgency by director Dominic Cooke, in a reconfigured Royal Court that has the audience wrapped around a stage in the middle, the play is alive with tiny details of long-festering resentments to bring a whole family history to life.
There are no earth-shattering secrets buried here, just the everyday curdling of love that follows disputes over money and property. It is acted with feeling and intensity by a superb cast that includes Linda Bassett and Ruth Sheen, both of them heartbreakingly good as the sisters, and Peter Wight bringing an aching comic poignancy to the role of their brother’s long-time best mate.
The Arts Desk by Aleks Sierz, 23 February 2012
Is there a more evocative location than Essex? In his 2000 play Under the Blue Sky, one of David Eldridge’s characters shouts the unforgettable words: “I’m from Essex and I’m dancing!” Now back at this venue for the first time since that play, Eldridge proves that he is much more than the common characterisation of him as “the writer as bloke”. But can his new play, which opened last night and is set in his favourite county, dance as well as his previous ones?
Sixtysomething Len is dying of prostate cancer. Gathered around his bedside are his two sisters, Doreen and Maureen, but this picture of working-class family harmony is disturbed by the fact that they haven’t spoken to one another for almost 20 years. Doreen’s son, Barry, is also there, as well as Len’s best mate, the wise-cracking Ken. The atmosphere fizzes with tensions from old animosities, and Ken’s good-natured jokes grate against the more sober seriousness of Barry. Ironically enough, while their mothers hate each other, the cousins Barry and Shelley are very close.
After Len’s death, the second act brings these and other family members onstage. Barry’s wife, Jackie, joins the mourners, and so does Maureen’s daughter, Shelley, the first one in the family to go to university, with her middle-class boyfriend Tom, a writer. But it is not until Act Three, the day of Len’s funeral and the reading of the will, that the barely suppressed family conflicts explode. Then, with a piece of elegant craftsmanship, Eldridge offers a final scene which fills in the gaps of the sibling conflict.
So In Basildon is partly a homage to the genre of 1960s family reunion dramas, and partly a loving look at working-class life over the past 60 years. As the characters argue and banter, you can sense – like a psychogeographic subtext – the great social migrations of the second half of the 20th century. There, just out of sight but present in spirit on stage, are the millions of working-class people who streamed out of the East End in search of a better life, first to Romford and then to Basildon.
South Essex is deftly distinguished from other parts of that county, and class conflict takes centre stage. When middle-class Tom has too much to drink, the antagonism between working class and middle class is explored in all its complexity, with neighbour Pam playing a crucial role. With a mix of fine observation and a light touch, Eldridge looks at the class differences in cultural taste and political allegiance. Here social embarrassment collides with class experience, and New Labour is rightly seen as a betrayer of the workers. 4 stars Whatsonstage.com Michael Coveney, 23 February 2012
Len’s dying in Basildon. His sisters, Maureen and Doreen (or “Maur” and “Dor”), who haven’t spoken for 20 years, gather at the bedside together with best friend Ken, neighbour Pam and nephew Barry, who lives in a council flat with his overweight wife Jackie.
The simmering family feuds in David Eldridge’s fine new play are threaded through a discussion of the lives they’ve all led in transit from the East End in the Second World War to “overspill” Essex in Romford and now the “plotlands” of Basildon and nearby villages of Laindon and Vange.
It’s not just because I am familiar with these demographic shifts that I enjoy the play so much; Eldridge is on to something that hasn’t been written about much, or at least so well, in our theatre. Just as Ken is “authentic Basildon,” Eldridge is “authentic Romford” with a few twists.
Ironically, he even incorporates a well-meaning, middle-class dramatist, the boyfriend of Len’s niece Shelley, who wishes these people would pull themselves together and get some culture on the hilarious and patronising grounds that “art” is the least they deserve. Ken sorts him out big time.
Eldridge knows whereof he speaks. His ear is pitch-perfect. Len has worked hard all his life at Ford’s and in management. The sisters have fallen out over the legacy of the house (as we see in a flashback final scene). And Barry (Lee Ross) is desperate to own his own place, hopefully Len’s. Barry’s pushy wife Jackie (Debbie Chazen) is a slight problem, too – she’s from Barking.
There’s a feel of Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party about some of this (Leigh said that masterpiece was set in “theoretical” Romford), but with the reading of the re-written will – which has been entrusted to Peter Wight’s earth-larding, domineering Ken – we’re suddenly in an update of an Edwardian, or even Manchester school, cliff-hanger.
It’s all beautifully controlled in Dominic Cooke’s brilliantly cast production which has been placed by designer Ian MacNeil on a traverse stage in a reconfigured auditorium (similar to that for Roy Williams’ Sucker Punch), complete with pine-style sideboard, chocolate stripy sofa and an odd mix of comfy and functional chairs.
Unfortunately, one half of the audience cannot see Phil Cornwell’s Len on his deathbed in the first act. Otherwise, the arrangement works well. And the staging even accommodates a black, drunk vicar (Christian Dixon) who slugs the whisky while executing that creepy task of researching his eulogy.
Linda Bassett and Ruth Sheen as Dor and Maur are expert in conveying their seething animosities in profile, and there’s a really delicious performance by Wendy Nottingham as the disappointed Pam, declaring her “spread” open at the wake and nursing a flickering flame for the marginally obese Ken.
Len’s death rattle is followed by a reconciliatory chorus of the West Ham anthem, “I’m forever blowing bubbles,” and if the only way is Essex, local (or nearly local) audiences will enjoy the memories of the Hammers and the chicken run and the idea that a new generation – Shelley (Jade Williams) and boyfriend Tom (Max Bennett) – are re-colonising Walthamstow, which now has good transport connections and “is like Highgate in the village.” 5 stars Jewish Chronicle By John Nathan, 1 March 2012
The working-class play has stormed back on to the Royal Court stage. Romford-born David Eldridge sets his play in the living room of an Essex semi owned by the recently deceased Len, and populates it with Len’s mourners – two feuding sisters, the comically named Maureen and Doreen, and Ken, his best mate. Also present are Barry and his terrifying wife Jackie who expects to inherit the house so they can chuck out Doreen and have a baby.
In that sense, Eldridge has written a deeply political play about the barriers to working-class aspiration. But it is also a hilariously funny work. Director Dominic Cooke, responsible in recent years for focusing the Court’s gaze on middle-class lives, has with this superbly performed production triumphantly returned the venue to its traditional territory. The question is, how long will it stay there? 4 stars Metro By Claire Allfree, 24 February 2012
‘There’s no new beginnings for families like our,’ says Maureen, gathered with her sister Doreen as their brother Len lies dying. Len owns the house; Doreen’s son Barry is expected to inherit; but the bitterness between Maureen and Doreen over a long-festering grievance spikes the air like acid.
David Eldridge’s excellent play examines the modern identity of the East End’s original Thatcher-voting white working class, and their migration to Essex, through the prism of that great British obsession: house ownership. Barry is humiliated that he remains in a council flat; by contrast, his high-flying cousin Shelley – who’s escaped Basildon via university for London (although much to the family’s amusement has ended up in Walthamstow) – has embraced the London condition of eternal renting.
The family is proud none has ever been on the dole but the Blair government and the effect of immigration on jobs has ‘squeezed [them] till the f—-ing pigs squeak.’ Meanwhile, Shelly’s posh liberal boyfriend Tom lectures them over their support for the Tories and thinks they should go to the theatre more.
Dominic Cooke’s richly observed, uneasily funny production cleverly plays on the class discomfort by having most of the audience peer down on the action. And Eldridge treads a high-wire line between compassion, comedy and criticism in a play that harks back to classic Royal Court working-class realism but it also vividly of today. 4 stars Mail on Sunday By Georgina Brown, 4 March 2012
The Royal Court’s artistic director, Dominic Cook, has often said that he wants to stage plays that hold up a mirror to the middle classes on the theatre’s doorstep in Chelsea, West London. With his new production of David Eldridge’s new play, In Basildon he goes a step further. He has rearranged the auditorium so the stage is sandwiched between two banks of seating and theatregoers can see those on the other side as if reflections of themselves.
While Tom, the son of an investment banker and the play’s only toff, tells Pam, a carer for the elderly, that he is ‘working class’ like her, people laughed but the perceptible flicker of embarrassed recognition on many faces is a delight to witness.
In Basildon is a very funny, very dark family drama about Essex, class, aspirations, money and the British obsession with owning property. As a working-class Essex boy who won a scholarship to a private school, worked in Romford market on Saturdays and became a successful writer, Eldridge knows what he’s talking about from several perspectives. Moreover, the epigraph to the play reveals both his moral and dramatic starting points. He quotes from St. Paul’s letter about money being the root of all evil, and from Arnold Wesker’s note to his actors in his play Roots: ‘I am at one with these people: it is only that I am annoyed, with them and myself.’
Len (Phil Cornwell) is dying surrounded by his family and friends in the living-room of the Basildon semi that was left to him by his parents. I was near enough to observe his breath change until, with a rattle, he slips away. Even more uncomfortably intimate is seeing his sisters, Doreen (the brilliant Linda Bassett) and Maureen, remove his catheter (a theatrical first for me) before together, tenderly laying him out. Until this moment and, indeed, immediately after it, Dor and Maur have been at daggers drawn, speaking through a third person and then only to say how much they hate each other’s guts. It’s not until the slightly prolonged final act that the play flashes back 20 years to the reasons why.
Eldridge’s razor-sharp ear and superb performances all round bring to vivid life the rifts, rivalries and terrible tensions between Len’s relations, his best friend, Ken, and his next-door neighbour, Pam. There is just the briefest ceasefire when Len dies, before speculation about his will and then the shock of its contents bring renewed and much worse violence.
Where there’s a will, there’s a play, you might say, but seldom one as good as this.
- Writer David Eldridge, director Dominic Cooke and actors Debbie Chazen and Peter Wight in discussion with the Royal Court’s Diversity Associate, Ola Animashawun. Download this Podcast
Thu 16 Feb, 7:30pm Fri 17 Feb, 7:30pm Sat 18 Feb, 7:30pm Tue 21 Feb, 7:30pm Thu 23 Feb, 7:30pm Fri 24 Feb, 7:30pm Sat 25 Feb, 2:30pm Sat 25 Feb, 7:30pm Sat 3 Mar, 2:30pm Sat 10 Mar, 2:30pm Thu 15 Mar, 2:30pm Sat 17 Mar, 2:30pm Thu 22 Mar, 2:30pm Sat 24 Mar, 2:30pm Thu 29 Mar, 2:30pm Sat 31 Mar, 2:30pm
Thu 16 Feb, 7:30pm Fri 17 Feb, 7:30pm Sat 18 Feb, 7:30pm Mon 20 Feb, 7:30pm Tue 21 Feb, 7:30pm
Wed 22 Feb, 7:00pm
Sat 25 Feb, 2:30pm Sat 3 Mar, 2:30pm Sat 10 Mar, 2:30pm Sat 17 Mar, 2:30pm Sat 24 Mar, 2:30pm Sat 31 Mar, 2:30pm
Tue 6 Mar, 7:30pm Tue 13 Mar, 7:30pm
Thu 15 Mar, 2:30pm Thu 22 Mar, 2:30pm Thu 29 Mar, 2:30pm
Wed 21 Mar, 7:30pm
Audio Described Performance
Sat 24 Mar, 2:30pm