Review – Driving Miss Daisy, Wyndham’s Theatre

Tuesday 11 October 2011

You could wait at the bus stop of theatrical expectations for years for something like this to come along: a play more familiar through the medium of cinema set in the deep south of the United States featuring Brit actors doing slightly dodgy accents – and preferably featuring hard-boiled eggs consumed live on stage.

And what happens? You get two. In a week. What are the chances?

Yes, hot on the scuffed heels of Tepid Hand Luke comes Driving Miss Daisy, made famous of course by the Oscar-winning film based upon Alfred Uhry‘s play.

This revival comes with its cast of three intact from the Broadway where it opened in the autumn of last year.

And you have to admit it is something of a cast. Vanessa Redgrave (when not shackling herself to travellers), James Earl Jones and multiple Tony winner Boyd Gaines. We were going to drag out the worn out (by us) old The Producers gag “Tony! Tony! Tony!” but Mr Gaines has four of them. How tiresome and greedy. Mr Earl Jones has two. And Ms Redgrave, well, we couldn’t be bothered to check but we do know that she received an Oscar and again made herself controversial in the process of accepting it.

So cast-wise The Broadway has arrived in the West End ergo-intacta and seems rather extravagantly to have brought its audience along too: the cast were applauded on their first appearance. Was this for turning up or for still being alive? Individual scenes also drew appreciative palm-spanking. The chances of this all building to an ovating climax once Daisy had been fully driven seemed inevitable. And had anyone been accepting bets on the matter we would have happily bet our shirts. And won.

DMD condenses a quarter of a century into a nippy interval-less piece with a background of civil rights history. Beginning in Atlanta in 1948 the affluent Daisy (Redgrave) is too old to drive being uninsurable as the result of an automobile accident. So against her wishes her son (Gaines) employs a chauffeur Hoke (Jones) for her.

The “car” is represented by a park bench but Phil found himself nevertheless won over by this flaunting of his particular bête noir, possibly because it was on its own revolve and looked rather fun.

And it was nice to see some stars proving why they are indeed stars. Redgrave is less mannered than one might have expected and has some rather fine comedic moments. Jones is excellent: both touching and endearing. And who wouldn’t be won over into settling into his back seat and just listening to that voice? The trio handle the ageing process convincingly enough.

Despite the occasional swerve, it steers just this side of sentimental and proves an engaging if slightly unchallenging evening. Still, it’s all over in less than 90 minutes which played to our own peculiar gallery, although if you’re paying the top price of £88.50 that’s about a pound a minute which is rather alarming.

On the other hand there was some most agreeable live-on-stage cake mixing which knocked The Kitchen into a cocked hat.


3 Responses to “Review – Driving Miss Daisy, Wyndham’s Theatre”

  1. Giancarlo Stampalia Says:

    I saw this on Broadway last Christmas, holding high expectations (but not having seen the film or read the play); I was disappointed.
    The play is a bit dated, and frightfully conventional, full of good sentiment and rather pat dialogue (did it really win the Pulitzer Prize?). Felt like a TV movie-of-the-week.
    James Earl Jones was pretty remarkable, solid and likeable, and his voice alone is so iconic as to be a show onto itself. But Redgrave (whose accent was a bit annoying) was alarmingly drab in it. Maybe this type of social-realist heartwarming material just isn’t for her. Her heart didn’t seem to be in it: she seemed an honest “working stiff” happy to be working in anything at all and lending her talents to an unlikely mimicry job. And her voice projection sounded like a shadow of its former glory. Having seen her in Gabriel Borkman with Paul Scofield some fifteen years ago, I was able to compare.

  2. sandown Says:

    “Full of good sentiment and rather pat dialogue (did it really win the Pulitzer Prize?)”

    That is exactly why it won the Pulitzer Prize.

    Pulitzer Prizes are awarded annually to various works of journalism, drama, or history which reflect the current attitudes of the New York Times editorial staff. (Think Guardian mentality, only better paid.)

    Anything that leftist types may disapprove of gets ignored. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, for example, was passed over.

    Conversely, on one occasion the prize was awarded to a Sam Shepard play a month after it had closed.

  3. I remeber this film from when I was younger. As a driving instructor now I sometimes refer to it when pupils seem to be going a little too slow. Obviously they have no idea what I’m talking about but it makes me smile inside.

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