A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG
by Peter Nichols.
Citizens’ Theatre 119 Gorbals Street G5 9DS To 12 November.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat 5 Nov 2.30pm.
BSL Signed 2 Nov.
Captioned 3 Nov.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 0141 429 0022.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 25 October.
Hardly a triumphant homecoming.
It seems quaint that Peter Nichols’ ground-breaking, career-making play disturbed the censor’s last gasp by suggesting a child overhear her parents mention going to bed together – in liberated 1967. But it’s more curious to think managements, and the playwright’s agent, disliked the play for dealing with a brain-damaged child and because the script broke the conventions of realistic drama by direct speech to the audience: over a decade after the Berliner Ensemble’s famous visit to London.
After a brief prologue where teacher Bri treats the audience as a noisy class, Nichols moves into realistic territory for half an act, before breaking into a discussion of the characters’ lives.
It was noted by reviewers in 1967 that the play is about Bri and Sheila’s life as much as their daughter Joe. Yet the strains result largely from Joe’s condition, in days when understanding and support were less developed than now. The break from theatrical realism echoes the disruption to normal expectations through the parents’ life with Joe.
They are decent, not heroic, people and Nichols’ strength lies partly in his honesty about the way they cope. Bri especially, through inventing an affair between Sheila and Freddie, who with his wife Pam drop by when realism resumes in act two.
And Nichol’s stratagem allows a moving moment, when the (here uncredited) young performer playing wordless, wheelchair-bound Joe comes skipping on and clearly announces the interval.
It’s the strongest point in Phillip Breen’s revival at the theatre where Joe Egg premiered. Despite Breen’s strong track-record this revival was probably doomed by its casting. Miles Jupp gives the dialogue a comic edge, but little sense of character, and none of the vitriol and self-loathing in a character from one of British theatre’s most bitter ironists.
It gives Sarah Tansey’s Sheila little to work against, though she tries well in a vacuum also created by Joseph Chance and Olivia Darnley, capable actors who play her friends as lifeless suburban caricatures. Miriam Margolyes is, of course, expert as a grandmother, improbably dropping-by late at night.
But even she is more comic turn than acidic ingredient in this unsatisfactory homecoming.
Bri: Miles Jupp.
Sheila: Sarah Tansey.
Freddie: Joseph Chance.
Pam: Olivia Darnley.
Grace: Miriam Margolyes.
Director: Phillip Breen.
Designer: Max Jones.
Lighting: Tina MacHugh.
Assistant director: Richard Lavery.