Bank robber Algie Packer is coming out of jail, only his mum Emmie (Sheila Hancock) and sister-in-law Chrissie (Keeley Hawes) have spent all the dosh, unbeknown to Archie’s dopey brother Darnley (Lee Evans). Then Algie’s lover Allegra (Montserrat Lombard, aka Shazza in Life on Mars) turns up, a hitman gets involved and it all becomes Birds of a Feather meets The Long Good Friday.
The cast certainly give it a go. Star of the show is Karl Johnson who plays decrepit hitman Rocco in the fashion of a forgetful handyman. Keeley Hawes looks great in her Towie gear and has worked hard at her glottal stops, but makes her part rather too aggressive to be properly believable. Lee Evans pulls some epic bemused faces and does a fine comic turn describing his appearance on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Hancock enjoys playing the East End matriarch and the set is impressively naff too, with a framed West Ham shirt, neon juke box and giant pink hand in the living room.
But the problem lies in the writing. In Birds of a Feather you cared about Sharon and Tracey because they were likeable, but here you are just not too concerned about the characters. And even if it is intended as a farce, surely a comedy should never end with murder? Another objection is that the play is simply rather patronising to the good people of Essex. There’s none of the local wit and everyone is incredibly thick. Do all Essex girls shag over the bonnet of a car? And would Darnley really be stupid enough to marry his half-sister?
The earthy dialogue does at times raise some laughs from the audience, but overall it’s a waste of a strong cast. Estuary Essex should be great material for a satire, but this is something of a missed opportunity.
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