Driving Miss Daisy – November 2017

Experience: 8/10

By Alfred Uhry

Directed by Richard Beecham

Company: Theatre Royal Bath

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Thursday 30th November 2017

This was a pleasant surprise. Having seen a decent touring production at the Theatre Royal Brighton in 1993, I considered this a fairly average play: I was happy to see it again but didn’t have high expectations. Steve had also seen the production at the Old Vic in 2011, in which Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones demonstrated that they might have been the right age, but they no longer had the power to do the parts justice.

Tonight’s performance was much better than either of us had anticipated. Sian Phillips still retains her acting skills and stage presence, and she was more than ably assisted by Derek Griffiths in the part of Hoke, with Teddy Kempner playing her son, Howard. With the touring set having to be placed towards the back of the Festival theatre’s large thrust, there was a danger of the action seeming remote, but the cast overcame the distance between themselves and the audience with some strong performances, and I had a few sniffles as well as a number of laughs by the end.

The set was excellent. The back walls were done in a plain slatted white wood effect, like louvred walls. Gaps to either side provided entrances, and there was a section of the central wall which could be swung up for the garage door. The flooring was light-coloured, and the overall impression was stripped down and modern. The period effect was created with white painted furniture – a bench sofa with coffee table, cane chairs, an old-fashioned circular coat rack, etc. – and supported with the music playing before the start and during the interval, and the period clothes. Oh, and the large screen with an advert for Oldsmobile Cars which hung over the set before the start and during the interval also helped.

The play began with the lights down and just the sound effects of Miss Daisy’s crash. From there on we saw the characters as they negotiated their way from outright hostility (Miss Daisy) and determined persistence (Hoke) to a grudging and somewhat testy acceptance and even a tenderness (sniff, sniff). The audience got the laughs in early and loud, which always helps, and I loved the way that Hoke, when his chance finally came, opened the wide garage door to reveal…a steering wheel on a stand, which he placed in front of the coffee table, with the sofa becoming the back seats. They mimed the driving sequences brilliantly, and we all enjoyed ‘seeing’ the tiny sandwiches which Miss Daisy passed to Hoke – he held his hand out for more as one didn’t even make a mouthful for him. When they passed the synagogue after the bombing, the wall lights flashed blue to represent the police cars, and they used a glitterball for a snow effect – lovely.

With the characters aging even more over the course of the play, it was no surprise to find Howard packing up Miss Daisy’s things in order to sell the house. A final visit to the lady in her care home led to a sad, but not depressing, ending. Steve felt his memories of the Old Vic production had been exorcised, and I was left with a much more positive impression of both the play and this production.

© 2017 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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