reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 6 November
Where do our prejudices come from? nature or nurture? The question underlies Alfred Uhry’s deceptively straightforward Driving Miss Daisy which the Theatre Royal, Bath is currently touring in a 30th anniversary production.
Director Richard Beecham and designer Simon Kenny keep the three-hander on the move with clever use of a bleached-effect set, suggestive of clapboard and minmal props and furnishings. There i also highly effective music an sound by Jon Nicholls. But for all this, it all boils down in the end to the actors themselves.
Siân Phillips is Miss Daisy, the former teacher who crashes the car her businessman son Boolie (Teddy Kempner) has bought her and is now required to use a Black chauffeur Hoke (Derek Griffiths). her perforamnce is beautifully nuanced as the Jewish momma with her own prejudices begins to trust Hoke and ultimately to depend upon him.
Kempner’s study of a man who is accepted as a quasi-honorary member of WASP society, but who is perhaps too careful not to overstep the mark is also multi-faceted. Hoke has his own shoulder-load of chips and Griffiths entices us with equal skill to join him in the character’s own journey from spikey, well-concealed resentment to a mental and social place of comparative calm.
The waltz rhythm of the old “When the ball is over” ballad permuates the action. It suggests a flavour of Tennessee Williams’ faded Southern belle Amanda, but Phillips’ Daisy learns how to baance a never-to-come-again past with the inevitibility of future’s changes. it makes for a memorable, thought-provoking evening in the theatre.
Four and a half-star rating.
Driving Miss Daisy runs at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until 11 November with matinées on 9 and 11 November.
reviewed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester on 2 August
JM Barrie’s play is most often seen nowadays in a Christmas pantomime version, complete with Dame. I suspect that’s what many in the audience were expecting, especially the very youngest children. What we saw is a tactful adaptation of the script by Daniel Buckroyd and Matthew Cullum (who also co-direct) with an original score by Richard Reeday.
The settings of Simon Kenny invite you to let your imaginations work – and roam. They’re deceptively simple with items manoeuvred into place by the cast of eight or swirls furling across the stage as locations shift. There’s a clever crocodile, a bath-boat and well-sustained lifts and movement for the flying sequences.
Emilio Iannucci’s Peter has the right blend of juvenile two-dimensional attitudes, athleticism and a dangerous touch of feral quality. Charlotte Mafham as Wendy shows us the inherent motherly qualities of the teenage daughter with only younger brothers; you can see why the children invading the stage at the end of the play gravitated towards her.
Mischievous, jealous Tinker Bell, in Alicia McKenzie’s portrait, makes a good contrast with Sara Lessore’s self-controlled Tiger Lily. Pete Ashmore doubles paterfamilias Mr Darling and Captain Hook (definitely no Eton alumnus) with Katharine Moraz as his wife and pirate Smee. James Peake is a properly exuberant Nana and lost-boy Slightly.
Some of the music is pre-recorded but the cast play various instruments, including Peake with a tuba, a piano and a variety of strings and woodwind. The evocative lighting is by Mark Dymock with sound design by Christopher Bogg.
Four star rating.
Peter Pan runs with an early evening start time at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 26 August with matinées on 3, 5, 6, 9, 10, 12, 13, 16, 17, 19, 20, 23, 25 and 26 August.
(reviewed at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford on 19 May)
Nobody does the tragi-comedy of the wrecking of relationships more skillfully than Alan Ayckbourn. Absent Friends, now 40 years old, offers us four such couples; however, one husband is bed-ridden at home and the other has lost his fiancée through a drowning accident. Michael Cabot’s new touring production for London Classic Theatre eschews the temptation to update it but treats it naturally, as a piece of its period which still has something to say to its audience even after a lapse of time.
Simon Kenny’s set – an affluent couple’s living-room in a house in an upwardly mobile area – displays all the most-have style of the period. It’s the home of businessman Paul (Kevin Drury) and his increasingly disenchanted wife Diana (Catherine Harvey). Colin (Ashley Cook) is a long-time member of their circle, perhaps less so now than when they were in their late teens and twenties. Diana is throwing a tea-party for Colin, now that he has so tragically lost his beloved Carole.
Except, of course, that he doesn’t really want consolation; he’s content with his memories of an untroubled, beautiful relationship (one which time had ensured would never even begin to sour). Marge (Alice Selwyn) has pampered her husband Gordon to such an extent that he is now an obese hypochondriac; her compensation is shopping. Hopeless salesman John (John Dorney), a man of perpetual motion, has acquired a wife Evelyn (Kathryn Ritchie), all monosyllabic estuary-English and laconic gum-chewing, and a baby, son Wayne.
Ayckbourn has laid these characters out on the table for examination, and Cabot performs a decisively neat dissection of them. From Dorney’s near-manic twitches and shuffles as John through the anger which is scarcely controlled in Drury’s thoroughly unpleasant Paul to the almost gormless bonhomie with which Cook invests Colin, the detailing is precise.
Diana has a couple of opportunities in which her frustrations boil over; the first is ostensibly aimed at Evelyn and the second (actions sometimes speak louder than words) at Paul. Harvey makes the most of these. One yearns to shake Marge out of her febrile complacency – she’s killing Gordon with pandering to his malaises while over-feeding him – Which is a tribute to Selwyn’s characterisation. As for Ritchie’s Evelyn… one can only say that if there is to be a survivor in their marriage, it won’t be John.
Absent Friends plays at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford on 20 May and at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds between 2 and 6 June as part of a national tour to 18 July.