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Stiletto Beach review: Essex girls cast off the old, lazy stereotypes in Queen's Theatre's sharp new play

PUBLISHED: 15:00 13 September 2019

Angela Clerkin as Dame Viv, Linda Broughton as Roni, Amy Vicary-Smith as Helen, Emily Houghton as Leanne and Danielle Flett as Kelly. Picture: Mark Sepple

Angela Clerkin as Dame Viv, Linda Broughton as Roni, Amy Vicary-Smith as Helen, Emily Houghton as Leanne and Danielle Flett as Kelly. Picture: Mark Sepple

Archant

The lazy, overused and often downright offensive "Essex girl" sterotype finds itself firmly in the crosshairs of a hilarious new play on at The Queen's Theatre in Hornchurch until the end of the month.

Let's get one thing out of the way, as a 25-year-old man I am almost certainly not Stiletto Beach's target audience. Nor is my 60-year-old father who I took along to the press night with me.

So the fact that we both came away from the Queen's Theatre with great big grins on our faces should hopefully convince you of the crowd-pleasing credentials of this new play, written specifically for the theatre's Essex Boys and Girls season by the talented Sadie Hasler.

Stiletto Beach tells the story of five very different Essex women living within spitting distance of the world's longest pleasure pier in Southend-on-Sea.

There's Leanne - played loud and proud by Emily Houghton - an extrovert 20-something happy to take life as it comes as long as she gets to see her nan Roni (Linda Broughton) every once in a while.

Leanne lives with her best mate Kelly, brought to life by Danielle Flett.

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Although Kelly hasn't let on, she's beginning to get more than a little bored of her quiet sea-side life.

And that discontent is thrown into sharp relief when journalist Helen (Amy Vicary-Smith), writing for The Guardian, moves into the flat above the pair and begins asking questions about their lives in Essex.

Looming above it all, quite often literally, is the regal figure of Angela Clerkin's Dame Viv - a movie star who has tried her very best to bury her Essex roots as deep as possible.

Over the course of the show's 90 minutes, these five women are thrown together to ask some profound questions of themselves, and of the Essex-girl stereotype that has seemed to follow them around wherever they go.

There are high points a-plenty, many of them fantastic examples of the cast's comic timing, but other just as gripping for their hard-hitting emotionality.

A stand-out on the night is a remarkable monologue from Danielle Flett in which she viciously lashes out at the death of the high street, and how hard it is not to take the loss of shops you grew up in personally.

And then there is the moment where the play's entire message is boiled down into one shot of pure frustration - an A-grade rant from Emily Houghton on the ridiculous way the world has made Essex girls feel second class.

It's no surprise that in our little corner of Essex (or east London, but we won't go into that here), it's a message that resonates. And it was no surprise when the cast were given a standing ovation as the curtain fell.

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