Barking in Essex

Theatre, West End
2 out of 5 stars
2 out of 5 stars
(22user reviews)
 (© Alastair Muir)
© Alastair MuirLee Evans (Darnley Packer) & Keeley Hawes (Chrissie Packer)
 (© Alastair Muir)
© Alastair MuirLee Evans (Darnley Packer), Keeley Hawes (Chrissie Packer) & Sheila Hancock (Emmie Packer)
 (© Alastair Muir)
© Alastair MuirLee Evans as Darnley Packer & Keeley Hawes as Chrissie Packer
 (© Alastair Muir)
© Alastair MuirSheila Hancock (Emmie Packer) & Keeley Hawes (Chrissie Packer)
 (© Alastair Muir)
© Alastair MuirSheila Hancock (Emmie Packer), Lee Evans (Darnley Packer) & Keeley Hawes (Chrissie Packer)
 (© Alastair Muir)
© Alastair MuirSheila Hancock (Emmie Packer), Lee Evans (Darnley Packer) & Keeley Hawes (Chrissie Packer)

Seven o’clock and the lights go up on the brilliantly tacky, zebra-striped living room of the Packer family in ‘Barking in Essex’ – a ‘new’ comedy by the late Clive Exton.

Whatever subtle hints Simon Higlett’s spectacular set possesses are quickly obliterated by the very first utterance of the play: ‘You cunt,’ yells Chrissie (Keeley Hawes), Exton’s idea of an Essex girl, orange of skin, fag in hand, addressing her husband Darnley (Lee Evans).

They have just returned from Darnley’s attempt at ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’, where he got the first question wrong, assaulted Chris Tarrant, was kicked in the 'goolies' by security and thrown out – all of which they recount to Emmie (Sheila Hancock) the matriarch of the criminal family.

The story unfolds to reveal that Emmie and Chrissie had squandered the three million pounds stashed away by Darnley’s violent younger brother Algie, soon to be released from prison. Fearing his wrath, the Packers must do something.

The plot is driven forwards by Allegra (Montserrat Lombard), the love of Algie’s life, who has come to collect his loot, with Algie himself as an off-stage antagonist. But it just isn't a good enough device to keep things interesting.

Most of the laugh-out-loud stuff comes from the liberal use of blue language. Though watching the legendary Sheila Hancock (who is the stand out performer) swear vociferously has its moments, it soon wears thin.

Evans’s Darnley is enjoyable but his commendable physical performance skills goes woefully underused, leaving the situational comedy aspect to carry us through. For that to work however we have to care for the characters, but they are stereotypes with no redeeming qualities, so again, the device fails.

To put it simply, the script is underdeveloped, several drafts away from being good. It was penned in 2005, two years before Exton passed, and one could argue that the humour is dated – it’s almost a decade old and should be seen through those lenses.

That said, the comedian Lee Nelson treads very similar paths of Essex stereotypes – inbreeding, crime and four-letter punchlines – and his meteoric rise suggests there's a big market for this sort of thing, so if you are a fan of his comedy you might enjoy this show. But should you prefer a plot, characters you care anything about and humour that is clever or at least... genuinely humorous, avoid, avoid, avoid, see ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ instead.

By Inua Ellams

Inua, 28, is a poet from south London. He was selected to write this review as part of the Time Out Takeover – a special edition of the magazine written entirely by readers.


Average User Rating

2.4 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:7
  • 4 star:0
  • 3 star:0
  • 2 star:3
  • 1 star:12
1 person listening

Just the worst play I have ever seen, how many times can you say the C word for comedic effect before it becomes completely redundant. A Script written by a three year old would of been better. No story, no comedy, no nothing. God bless Lee Evans for effort but he knows you cant polish this turd. I along with four friends left at the interval, we were not the only ones. Do not waste your time or money on this drivel. I gave it a 1 because 0 was not available. I felt sorry for the theatre staff who have to watch this crap everyday, what the hell did they do in a previous life. You have been warned.

Worst play I've seen in the West End. The script couldn't be any good as the story was a joke (definitely not in the literal sense!). A waste of acting talent. The swearing was just like a Primary School playground; generally out of context. Topical humour needs to be freshly written not eight years old. A complete waste of money (and unfortunately I paid full price!). Thank goodness we had a good pre-theatre supper at Kettner's.

"Inua, 28, is a poet from south London. He was selected to write this review as part of the Time Out Takeover – a special edition of the magazine written entirely by readers." -Says it all really... This person was never going to enjoy this and write an objective review.

Hearing Sheila Hancock drop the C bomb is not funny - and hearing the rest of the cast drop it, less so. I like Sheila Hancock, I like Lee Evans and I admit to liking Essex. Sadly put the three of them together with this script and they all loose.

Simply dreadful, my friend and I left during the interval. The only saving grace was that our purchase was part of a restaurant and theatre ticket deal only costing £22 each, without that we would have felt cheated. There is no question that the actors were brilliant, but the script was so poor that it only raised the odd chuckle between us. The advertising looked so promising so I am very disappointed that the final product is so stale. Go see something else!

The cast is amazing. Time out got it wrong for once. It was full of laughs and pathos. The disturbing ending left the audience dead silent then as the curtain raised for the bows the audience cheered in appreciation. This was a great night out, not for prudes or snobs. Any shortfalls in script or directing (which are minor) are more than compensated for by the amazing comic talents on stage. And they make it look so easy a less experienced eye might miss the incredibly high class skill involved in presenting this low class problem family. Don't miss it. It was great fun!

This review expresses my opinions about this play, translated into the style, humour and language of "Barking in Essex". Genuinely - this is how it felt to listen to the level of unwarranted swearing in this play. I don't care about swearing. It doesn't offend me at all. But it simply doesn't work here. The plot is really weak. The dialogue is just peppered with random, nonsensically inserted expletives - as if the author had severe Tourettes and used a dictaphone to narrate the script. If you find the review below "hilarious" - then go to see this play. If swearing offends you - for your own sake - do not go near this play, and stop reading this review now. Personally, I would reccomend that you stay at home, burn £150, and stab yourself repeatedly in the leg with a fork - much more likely to raise a smile. "This f**king c*nt of a play is the biggest f**king piece of sh*t I have ever f**king seen in my c*nt of a life. The bloke that wrote it was a c*nt. The director is a massive c*nt with f**king bells on, and anyone that f**king laughed in the c*nting audience was a c*nt. The poor f**king actors (who, it has to be said, are genuinely talented f*ckers) must feel like c*nts. Their f*cking agents are c*nts for letting them perform in this f**king c*nt of a play. What a c*nting waste of my f**king money."

Well, what dare I say??? We have just got the theatre bug so after seeing a great comedy farce last month (one man two guvnors) we decided another comedy was for us. We chose the wrong one. You look at the cast list and thought this will be good. There is a lovely notice in the foyer at the theatre stating that there is strong language throughout the show. No kidding!!!! The novelty of hearing Sheila Hancock saying the C word wears off by about the 5th time she says it the sad part being thats probably only 10 minutes in. The language is terrible. I am no prude, and with Lee Evans in the cast I was expecting bad language, but I get the feeling that the C word alone was just used throughout to try to lift the flagging plot and script. My other half was drifting off because he was so bored. The actors did as well as they could with what they were given but Sheila fluffed lines and there were parts where the cast were expecting laughs that didnt come. We wasted a day in London that we can never get back. Lessons learnt were that from now on we will read reviews before seeing our next show. We avoided reading reviews incase there are any spoilers. Ironic I know. Please dont waste your money.

I was expecting a great play because of the strong cast but its simply awful. The plot was boring, the humour was excruciatingly tedious and I didn't find it funny at all and was finding it hard to pass the time and couldn't wait till it finished. I am quite open minded so was expecting expletives but just got so tedious being repeatedly. I say don't waste your money seeing this dribble, go and see something worthwhile like 'Fences'.

Absolutely dreadful play....left at the lacked humour and the plot was your time and money

What Can I say about this play, there are very few words that are able to describe the awful scripting, written by a person who does not appear to understand estuary English. Take a tally counter with you to count the number of times the word C*** is used and always inappropriately. If you really must use the word, and here it is wholly unnecessary, use it with grace and rarely Lee Evans was clearly the draw for the show, but we did not see enough of his natural talent. But when that talent was released, the slow run and the dance, it was warmly and roundly applauded. Sheila Hancock was struggling with a poor script and seeing her swear was a novelty initially but then it all became trite and tedious. Keeley Hawes too her part well, but really let down by a bad script. The best (visual) joke in the script was mostly missed - Luton, and really the plot and the ending was very thin. Cast good script dreadful, set great - but a six shooter does only shoot six bullets, not seven

That's odd... I just posted a damning, 1 star review, suggesting nobody waste their time on this travesty, and it showed up just fine at the top of the reviews... But when I went back in to check other reviews again, mine was gone!! What happened? (no abuse or foul language, in my entry)

The actors do their best, and in particular Sheila and Lee each pull off a miracle by giving several moments of pleasure despite the script ... But this dreadful piece is best avoided. How can some reviewers have given more than one star, here? Has the show been rewritten & redirected? I saw the first preview, so I'll tolerate much without complaint. But low-lights for me were the reliance-on (different to the use-of) swear words for laughs; the expectation the we will happily laugh at stupid illiterate people for over an hour; and that when finally realising the fun has dribbled out of the show, the crunching, crashing gear change into miserable killings will somehow substitute for drama. Except for the great cast and the act 1 set... This was a total waste of money and i will never get those two, long hours back.

Lee Evans is playing a character called 'Darnley' - not being Lee Evans. This is a role in a play, and he is great. Sheila Hancock is 'Mum' and she is fantastic. Keeley Hawes - as you have never seen her before 'shamazing'! Forget 'Ashes to Ashes'........... It is about a 'troubled family' - but all families have their troubles. Ok, this family might have more than their fair share. The C word is used a lot true. To end my review - it is well worth seeing.

I highly recommend this colourful quality comedy. I haven't laughed as much in ages. Thank you to everyone involved at the Wyndhams theatre for putting on this excellent show. Keeley Hawes is outstanding in her role as Chrissie Packer - don't miss out, get your tickets and 'Meet the Packers!' Iyiyiyiyi liked it very much............

Enjoyed seeing Lee Evans in this role. Totally agree how well the cast bounce off each other. The story is about a dysfunctional family - what else do you need to understand at the end of this Black Comedy?. There is swearing - but as the reviewer said below if you are offended by this don't go. Chrissie Packer might say 'Shut up - it aint Shakespeare' - just appreciate these talented individuals playing the parts they have each taken on. Another good point - Clive Exton did write this in 2005 - and totally agree if he was still around he might have made some changes. As he is no longer around - he can't. Congratulations to Lee Evans, Sheila Hancock and Keeley Hawes (plus that fake sun tan!).

Give the play a chance! There is a warning about the language - so don't buy a ticket if it bothers you. Someone commented they are struggling to find anything positive. Shall we start with the strong cast. Keeley Hawes in a completely different type of role is excellent, along with Sheila Hancock (and find it hard to believe she is 80). Puts some younger ones to shame. Lee Evans doing a Carmen Miranda routine in the second half. The expressions on Keeley Hawes face -she didn't need to say anything. Credit to Karl Johnson, also. The four work together brilliantly. If you do not like bad language don't go. Keep an open mind, and don't take the play so seriously - it is a Black Comedy. Give these four performers credit due - you work with the script you have been given. Perhaps if the writer was with us still, the script may have been revised. If you are a fan of any of the cast - go along and give them support.

a really funny black comedy based on the arsenic and old lace theme with a good storyline with loads of laughs the cast were great and for a 80yr old shelia hancock was fantastic were does she get her stamina from the bad language could be cut by half and be just as good lee evans was his usual self ie daft as a brush be warned watch out for the gunshots the audience loved it with a standing ovation at the end

In total agreement with Joanna below. I'm struggling to find anything positive to say - it really was disappointing, and I feel sorry for these decent actors doing their best with a juvenile and sluggish script. Many laughed the first time Sheila Hancock said the C-word. It became very apparent the writers were relying on blue language to keep us amused. Aside from that, the other jokes came at the expense of the poorly-educated TOWIE-types - "I wuddunt portray 'is trust like that!" - which were slightly more inventive, but not amusing. Frankly, give this one a miss. Unless you're an idiot.

I simply cannot find the words to adequately describe how awful this play is - well I suppose I could use some of the many gratuitous profanities that are spewed from the outset of this debacle. The storyline is extremely poor, the comedy non-existent and by the end of the play I really didn't care what happened to any of the characters, nor how or why. The top priced tickets were purchased as a gift when first on sale months ago, thinking it was bound to be a hit with a cast such as this. How wrong I was. I fail to see how any of the cast could have been drawn to such a diabolical play , with almost every sentence containing the F-word, the C-word and in most cases a combination of both. I am by no means a prude but I am immensely disappointed that actors of such calibre and whom I admire would possibly want to be associated with this rubbish. A HUGE disappointment. A 1 star rating as the review wouldn't submit with NO stars!! Barking in Essex? More like barking mad if you go and see this!!

If you are expecting to see Lee Evans as his normal funny character you will be disappointed. At the end of the performance I felt I didn't really get what the point of it was - really disappointing.

If you are expecting to see Lee Evans as his normal funny character you will be disappointed. At the end of the performance I felt I didn't really get what the point of it was - really disaapointing.