Theatre and therapy: In Basildon

In Basildon by David Eldridge at The Royal Court is a brilliantly funny play about a dysfunctional family and an inheritance. Len is on his deathbed and the family gather to say goodbye. His two sisters Maureen and Doreen have not spoken in nearly twenty years. Doreen's son Barry is hoping to get the house as his inheritance so he can start a family. The scene is set for greed, grudges and entitlement against the backdrop of the city of Basildon, a rather bleak looking town created in post war England to house the growing population from London (and featured in the above promotional video).

The finely drawn characters pull you into the drama. The superb cast is headed by Linda Bassett (of East is East fame and other films) as Doreen and Mike Leigh veteran Ruth Sheen as Maureen. They are sisters with a long grudge and years of bitterness between them. And it is hard not to laugh when you hear their names together.

The characters are on one level grotesque which is the source of much of the comedy, but they also are completely believable. So much so that you feel it isn't a hatchet job on Basildon or a particular way of life. There are also larger observations about how families are something to be endured and avoided. People make decisions throughout the play that make them worse off based upon how they assume they should live. So you leave the theatre understanding their motivations, but wondering if there should be more to life than this...

The dialogue is funny and full of sharp observations that you will be glad that the programmes include the full script so you can brush up on them later... Or perhaps re-enact your favourite scenes on the tube ride home. If you are thinking of doing the latter it would be advisable to avoid some of the more contentious scenes, particularly if anyone is eating jellied eels nearby.

In this production the audience can sit either side of the stage in the stalls or circle. From my seat in the stalls I did wonder whether there was any benefit in sitting on the other side, apart from being able to see Len on his deathbed. But I suspect this is part of the fun of this play in that you see different aspects of it depending upon the side you're coming from...

It runs until April 5 and could benefit from repeat viewings from all angles... Or at least a West End transfer... It deserves one...

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