DRIVINGF MISS DAISY
by Alfred Uhry.
Wyndham’s Theatre 32 Charing Cross Road WC2H 0DA To 17 December 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 482 5120.
Review: Carole Woddis 6 October.
Rose blinkered spectacles, but has its moments.
Your heart sinks when the number of producers takes up more space than the creative team in the programme. Driving Miss Daisy has landed in the West End. The play that started out off-Broadway, became a Pulitzer prize and Oscar award winning film and then took Broadway by storm, has become a phenomenon.
And there was every reason to suppose that Alfred Uhry’s tale, inspired by his Jewish grandmother who lived in the southern States of America during changing times, would have as much resonance here as there.
After all, with its Jewish-Black alliance, this `heart-warming’ if deeply sentimental account of how an elderly, White employer and her equally 70+ ageing African-American chauffeur develop a mutually sustaining friendship over 25 years, should speak on all kinds of different levels, personal, cultural and political.
But when you have two Big Stars and `national treasures’ involved, whose every move draws applause as if in tribute to still being alive (at 70?), when accents slip and slide about, after a while, it all begins to feel synthetic rather than meaningful.
Only when Vanessa Redgrave’s increasingly dippy Daisy is visited in the home – to which she has been moved by her unfailingly dutiful if hard-pressed son – by James Earl Jones’ Hoke and we see the bond that has grown between them does emotional reality break through.
Redgrave, lips clamped firmly together, at first refuses the food offered to her by Hoke. But then he takes a bite himself. Daisy’s eyes open wide, she guffaws, opens her mouth and like a giant gnat gobbles up his offering. It’s a moment perfectly demonstrating both the mischievous manipulation of dementia and the genuine trust and warmth built between these two people – and Redgrave and Earl Jones perform it with blissful empathy the one for the other.
But elsewhere, director David Esbjornson’s plodding production is a hymn to the obvious with the occasional back-projection reminding us that their personal story is being set against one of the most tumultuous episodes in American history – the American Civil Rights campaign and Martin Luther King.
Not exactly my cup of tea.
Boolie Werthan: Boyd Gaines.
Hoke Coleburn: James Earl Jones.
Daisy Werthan: Vanessa Redgrave.
Director: David Esbjornson.
Designer: John Lee Beatty.
Lighting: Peter Kaczorowski.
Sound (UK): John Owens.
Music: Mark Bennett.
Projections: Wendall K Harrington.
Automation: Martin Sharmon
Costume: Jane Greenwood.
Associate director: Jon Emmanuel.
First performance of this production of Driving Miss Daisy at Wyndhams Theatre London 26 September 2011. The play was first produced at Playwrights Horizon, NY 1987.