Review – Driving Miss Daisy, at the Festival Theatre, Malvern, from Monday, November 5 to Saturday, November 10, 2012.
SET in what were some of America’s most difficult years this play is both endearing and enduring.
There’s a nice gentle pace to it as it emotionally weaves you through the breakdown of social barriers to show that the spirit of human warmth and kindness can surface above adversity and allow special friendships to develop.
This, after all, is the time of the Civil Rights Movement in America when discrimination was all too prevalent and Miss Daisy is living in Atlanta, Georgia.
Alfred Uhry’s play, which was first produced 25 years ago and then went on to become an Oscar winning film, is basically a tale of human relationships set against the backdrop of the struggle by America’s black population to gain rights and respect throughout the 1950s, 60s and beyond.
Although it doesn’t delve too deeply it’s still a thought-provoking and essentially a heart-warming tale of a Jewish widow, Daisy Werthan, and a friendship she could never have imagined. Age is taking its toll to the extent that her son (Ian Porter) hires Hoke Coleburn (Don Warrington), as a chauffeur, to drive her around because he believes it would be safer, and cheaper, for all concerned.
One of our most popular actresses, Gwen Watford, slots effortlessly into the role of the eccentric but flinty Miss Daisy and once more proves her calibre as her character progresses through her retirement years – from a witty ex-schoolteacher, initially indignantly opposed to having a black chauffeur, to her final days of frailness when the two have become such firm and loyal friends.
Warrington too, is perfection, as he ensures the dignified Coleburn quietly dictates the development of their relationship, but always with due respect.
Their performances gel perfectly and there is indeed one particular poignant, no, tender moment in the closing scene when Miss Daisy, now 93, and her by then former chauffeur 85, are left chatting together in a nursing home that should guarantee bringing a lump to the throat.
Ian Porter’s fine Boolie Werthan, is the other vital cog in this tremendous three-hander, and his moments with ‘momma’ sparkle with both humour and pathos.
Director David Esbjornson and scenic designer John Lee Beatty have done an excellent job between them in this touring production which seamlessly ‘transports’ us over the years via minimal stage props and the simple but stunning use of a steering wheel, seats, sound-effects and film projected onto a back-screen.
Uhry’s characters too are believable and effectively brought to life by a trio at the top of their game.
It’s brief at only 90 minutes, with no interval, but nevertheless its brevity is quite beautiful.