Driving Miss Daisy

March 6, 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩    Magically moving

King’s Theatre
Tue 5 – Sat 9 March 2013
Review by Martin Gray

Atlanta, 1948. At 72, Daisy Werthan has become too old to drive safely and no company will reinsure her. Rather than see her write off another car or, worse still, get hurt, son Boolie arranges to pay for a chauffeur, African-American Hoke Colburn.

Gwen Taylor as Daisy Werthan & Don Warrington as Hoke Colburn. Driving Miss Daisy national tour. Photo Nicholas Dawkes

Gwen Taylor as Daisy Werthan & Don Warrington as Hoke Colburn. Driving Miss Daisy national tour. Photo Nicholas Dawkes

Daisy hates the idea – hates being told she has to lose a little independence, hates that people might think she’s so wealthy that she can afford a driver, hates the idea of a stranger in her house. She doesn’t believe she’s prejudiced, but the only African-American she sees regularly is housemaid Idella, and ‘we stay out of each other’s way’.

After refusing to let Hoke take her anywhere for six days, Daisy finally allows him to drive her to the local supermarket – the marvellously named Piggly Wiggly.

The short ride is the beginning of a journey towards friendship, taking in not just 25 years of personal change as both Daisy and Hoke grow, but the shifting social mores. By the time the Sixties brings the Civil Rights movement, Daisy is a staunch supporter of Martin Luther King, though she fumbles the chance to have Hoke attend a rally with her by inviting him only at the last minute.

Which is right for the character. Daisy isn’t a saint, and neither is Hoke – they’re just two imperfect people living in tumultuous times who find common ground in simple decency; ex-schoolmarm Daisy helps Hoke learn to read, while Hoke helps her see that despite her denials that she’s rich, she has a place in society Hoke is denied. Towards the end of the play, when Daisy acknowledges to Hoke that ‘you’re my best friend’, you know it’s true. The note is heart-warming, but a million miles from saccharine.

Formidable stage partnership

As Daisy and Hoke, Gwen Taylor and Don Warrington forge a formidable stage partnership. Taylor’s well-kent comic touch serves her well as Hoke’s good humour helps Daisy’s dormant sense of fun re-emerge, but it’s in the quieter moments that she truly impresses, convincing us that we’re not watching a performance, but a life.

Warrington subsumes his enormous charisma, to show us the extraordinary, ordinary guy – a man who’s never been beaten down by the racism he’s faced daily. It is a privilege to watch two actors of such stature build a relationship that feels so real.

Lending stylish support as Boolie, Ian Porter is full of avuncular charm, holding his own against the two star performers – he was cover Boolie for this production’s West End production and his promotion is justified.

All three actors make a fine fist of the difficult Southern accent, with Porter perhaps having a slight advantage as an American, though he’s a West Coaster. Warrington’s accent is so authentic that it took me a few minutes to tune into it, but it was hardly a hardship.

Director David Esbjornson brings Alfred Uhry’s prize-winning play to the stage with intelligence and sensitivity, enabling his actors to bring out the truths in the work. John Lee Beatty’s set is cleverly divided into three playing areas – Daisy’s home, Boolie’s office and the road, where theatrical magic means a car never needs to be more than a steering wheel, a chair and a bench on a revolve. The back projections of such things as the Piggly Wiggly help place the imagination, but it’s the words and their interpretation that really ground the show.

At 90 minutes with no break, Driving Miss Daisy is a tightly focused treat, as three superb actors make a classic script feel as fresh as the day it was written. Magically moving, it’s anything but a bumpy ride.

Running time 1 hour 30 mins
Run ends Saturday 9 March
King’s website: www.edtheatres.com

Driving Miss Daisy tour details

5 – 9 March Edinburgh
Kings Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
18 – 23 March Bromley
Churchill Theatre
08448 717 620 Book online
25 – 30 March Eastbourne
Devonshire Park
01323 412000 Book online
2 – 6 April High Wycombe
Swan Theatre
01494 512 000 Book online
9 – 13 April Wolverhampton
Grand
01902 42 92 12 Book online

ENDS

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