Heads Up: Barking in Essex with Lee Evans

A funny thing happened on the way to the limo …

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The Independent Culture

What are we talking about? A starry new comedy in the West End, about a "well dodgy" family of hapless, dysfunctional Essex criminals. One of their number gets out of jail after seven years inside, and is ready to spend his stashed loot — but the family might just scupper his plans …

Elevator pitch Towering talents do a TOWIE: Lee Evans gets criminally funny in Essex.

Prime movers The play is by Clive Exton, known for TV shows Jeeves & Wooster and Rosemary & Thyme. Although it was written in 2005, Exton — who died in 2007 — never saw it performed: this is the show's premiere. Harry Burton (Quartermaine's Terms) directs.

The stars Comedian-turned-actor Lee Evans plays the hopeless criminal Darnley. Sheila Hancock (Cabaret, Sister Act) is the matriarch of the family, while Keeley Hawes (Spooks, Upstairs Downstairs) plays his wag-tastic wife. Karl Johnson (Lark Rise to Candleford) and Monserrat Lombard (Ashes to Ashes) also star.

The early buzz The Evening Standard wrote that "Lee Evans, Sheila Hancock and Keeley Hawes … have been given a makeover in the style of The Only Way Is Essex for a new West End comedy, Barking In Essex, in which they play members of a dysfunctional crime family." Website What's On Stage reported, in an interview with Evans, that he will play "the village idiot of the criminal underworld", while Hancock plays his "rottweiler" mother Emmie. Evans described Barking in Essex as being "a bit like Ab Fab meets The Sopranos — it's mental, it's mad".

Insider knowledge The last time Evans performed in the West End was in 2007, in Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter — also directed by one Harry Burton.

It's great that … with a cast like that, the promise of properly funny farce should be fulfilled.

It's a shame that … it may risk descending into cultural snobbery — lets all laugh at the thick chavs of Essex! — like hate-watching TOWIE, only with really expensive ticket prices.

Hit potential Evans will be a draw, and it's being marketed as big, bold, and brassy: accessible West End theatre for all (even if you may need to rob a bank yourself to afford the best seats: tickets hit £77).

The details Barking in Essex is at Wyndham's Theatre, London WC2, from 6 Sept to 4 Jan.