Writer: Alfred Uhry
Director: Russell Lucas
Spanning 25 years from 1948 to 1973 Driving Miss Daisy is the story of Jewish widow Daisy Werthan and her relationship with African-American driver Hoke Colburn. Daisy reluctantly hires Hoke at the bequest of her son, after she has had one too many road accidents. Not only does she not want a driver, she also doesn’t want a black one, but after Daisy starts to spend an increasingly large part of her life watching the back of Hoke’s head in the confined space of her Oldsmobile, the two become friends and confidantes. Racism and prejudice are overcome by tolerance and welcoming diversity.
It could be a message for our time, and director Russell Lewis clearly thinks it is, claiming “we are living in very conflicted times and Driving Miss Daisy is as relevant as it ever was.” However, while there may be few who disagree with the first half of his statement, the second half does not immediately follow. The play is a reflective piece set in a time where racism and discrimination were enshrined in the law and where individuals could break through prejudice if they realised there was more to unite them than divide them. It was not set in a time where it appears more people are choosing to ignore equality in law and push intolerant agendas.
This mismatch of intention and play does not mean there isn’t a place for Driving Miss Daisy in 2016, the story doesn’t need the bold association to make it worth retelling, but it does raise the question of what they are trying to achieve, and a feeling that they are focusing on the message at the expense of the story and relationship at the heart of it.
There is little sense of the passage of a quarter of a century. It’s almost the very last scene before any noticeable change in the physical appearance of either Daisy or Hoke, social changes barely intrude on the script, and the personal journey the characters go on feel like they cover a span of 25 weeks not 25 years.
Both Paddy Glynn as Daisy, and Geoffrey Aymer as Hoke, bring a real understanding of the character’s backgrounds and the race divide in ’40s America to the opening scenes. Glynn captures the obstinacy and grouchiness of Daisy, more moaning that raging against the dying of the light, while Aymer shows the reluctant acceptance of his place in society, at the same time believing that morally and personally he is equal to any white person. This dynamic drives the play at the start, but as the play progresses, nothing is added to the portrayals, leaving it to the script rather than script and actors to show the relationship becoming something that transcends backgrounds of class and colour.
It’s a pleasant production with a gentle pace that fits with the time and setting, and a live guitar backing from April Roots’ that adds to the atmosphere, being wistful and melancholic. However, it fails to pack the emotional punch it should do and doesn’t make you care for the central characters or see them as flag bearers for a way of living we could learn from today.
Runs until 5 November 2016 | Image: Simon Annand