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September 18, 2013 5:15 pm
Right from the opening profanity, it’s clear that Clive Exton’s comedy will not mince its words. Exton uses expletives with deliberation, but not always with the intended effect. (Compare the magnificently profane rhetoric of the TV series Deadwood.) For every turn of phrase that is spiced up or given added rhythmical zest by its Anglo-Saxon embellishment, there are two or three that simply pin the characters as having mouths as wide as the Thames estuary and minds as narrow as the creek at Canvey Island.
The Packers are an East End-diaspora criminal family, living high on the hog (Simon Higlett’s eye-achingly vulgar “luxury” set drew applause in its own right) off the proceeds of younger son Algie’s safe deposit robbery several years ago. Now that Algie is getting out of prison, they realise they need either to tell him and his posh fiancée that they’ve been dipping into his capital or make alternative arrangements sharpish.
They choose the latter course, leaving a dead body and a bullet lodged inside cut-price hitman Rocco Dimaggio (who’s as Italian as Pizza Hut) and fleeing with Rocco to a second-act location that looks like a tumbledown hovel on the Costa del Crime but turns out to be rather less exotic. Mum Emmie, elder son Darnley, daughter-in-law Chrissie and Rocco hatch various plots to return home, blatantly spurning the idea that the only way is ethics, and you just know that one or more of them will not be seeing the final curtain from a vertical position.
There must be a reason why it took eight years for this play to be staged (Exton himself died in 2007): I incline to the view that this is because it isn’t much good. There must, similarly, be a reason why it is now being presented: that, I think, is because the likes of TV series The Only Way Is Essex have blurred the lines between indictment and endorsement of these values, so that a production like Harry Burton’s here can now both have its cake, by satirising such brainless excess, and eat it, by ensuring the satire is so toothless that the whole affair becomes simply a bit of raucous fun. Supposedly. Sheila Hancock, Lee Evans and Keeley Hawes are the leads whose CVs will not be ornamented by the inclusion of this particular venture.
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