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Driving Miss Daisy – Richmond Theatre, London

Writer: Alfred Uhry

Director: David Esbjornson

Reviewer: Deborah Klayman

[rating:4]

Set in Atlanta in the 1950s and 60s, Driving Miss Daisy is a cleverly written and heartfelt piece about the relationship between two seemingly opposite characters thrown together by circumstance. Daisy Werthan, an affluent Jewish woman, is battling to maintain her independence as she grows older and is no longer able to drive. Hoke Coleburn is a poor black man, long out of work, who is also struggling to maintain his dignity in the face of the prejudice that he encounters in daily life. On paper the two are the epitome of the odd couple, but as the play progresses so too do the years the pair spend together, and ultimately it is what they share and not what makes them different that is at the heart of this play.

There are some elements of the staging that sit awkwardly with this gentle and essentially naturalistic piece, and focal though it is the car Daisy and Hoke use that poses the main problem. Suggested by a garden bench, chairs and a steering wheel it is necessary to suspend disbelief, however this is then accompanied by a variety of sound effects that by and large just draw attention to the fact that there is in fact no car onstage. This is unfortunate as the performances do the driving in this production and need no assistance.

The play is set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, and Hoke further bonds with Daisy when he draws a telling parallel between anti-Semitism and the persecution of black people when her synagogue is bombed. He relates, in a very matter of fact way, his memory of a lynching he witnessed in childhood, challenging Daisy’s perceptions and striking a chord. The pair are very alike: strong and opinionated, but both lacking control over their lives and fighting for the respect of others. Daisy’s son, Boolie, is well-meaning but ultimately has the power to decide the fate of the other characters, leaving both at a disadvantage.

With strong performances from the cast of three, Driving Miss Daisy is expectedly engaging and surprisingly funny. When the eponymous Daisy (Gwen Taylor) meets Don Warrington’s Hoke for the first time she makes it abundantly clear she does not want or need his help. The first portion of the piece appears initially to be a stand-off between the cantankerous and the unflappable, however as time goes on both begin to lose this artifice and begin to find a middle ground. At times the piece feels too episodic, with scenes ending abruptly before any emotional depth is reached, but this actually serves to make the pair’s final scenes together far more affecting than one would expect. Their slowly growing companionship is touchingly believable, making Daisy’s simple acknowledgement of their friendship profoundly moving. Thanks to Taylor and Warrington’s sterling performances Daisy and Hoke’s journey together – so much more than a car ride – is both heartwarming and tinged with sadness.

Runs until 27th October (then touring)

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