It makes perfect sense that David Eldridge’s 2012 play is being revived as part of the Queen’s Theatre’s Essex on Stage season. The Romford-born playwright’s In Basildon is a patchwork of local references, from jokes about West Ham United to name-checking the nearby supermarkets.
Estranged sisters Maureen (Lucy Benjamin) and Doreen (Beverley Klein) haven’t spoken in 20 years. They’re forced back into contact with one another at the deathbed of their brother Len (Peter Temple). After Len breathes his last, the impending reading of a new will at his funeral by his best mate Ken (Patrick Driver) unearths decades of familial strife.
Douglas Rintoul’s production conveys a strong sense of place, thanks in part to Natasha Jenkins’ closed-in set design, as Eldridge’s play explores the ways in which Essex has changed over the years. Doreen and Ken wax lyrical about the East End families who swapped Mare Street for the suburbs, while Maureen’s daughter Shelley (Charlotte Law), the first one in the family to go to university, has relocated to the rapidly gentrifying Walthamstow.
Benjamin puts in a particularly good performance as the strung-out Maureen, never relaxing her shoulders-back, tummy-in poise for a moment. Equally, Peter Bray, as the liberal elite playwright, captures a certain ‘type’ perfectly. He’s someone who, while well-meaning, can’t help but be condescending.
Seven years since its premiere, Eldridge’s writing remains relevant, but it’s also often a bit obvious and self-aware. Surely nobody in Basildon actually talks this much about Basildon? The closing tacked-on flashback scene doesn’t help matters, but the performances are strong and they carry things along.