BWW Reviews: DAYTONA, Theatre Royal Haymarket, July 7 2014
Revenge or justice - that's the debate offered by Oliver Cotton's star-studded West End transfer of Daytona. Just how should you react when the past you'd tried so hard to forget suddenly forces itself back into the present?
Elli (Maureen Lipman) and Joe (Harry Shearer) are 70-something Jewish immigrants in 1980s New York City. It's the night before the big ballroom dance competition and Elli is trying to whip Joe into shape. Meanwhile, Joe has to work on his one remaining accountancy client. Suddenly, Billy (Cotton) arrives unannounced, having not been in their lives for 30 years. We soon discover just where he's been, what made him run away, what made him come back and whether 10.30pm at night is the perfect time for a Chinese takeaway feast.
Daytona takes some time to get going; the first half drags as Billy's back story is revealed drip by drip. The audience shares Joe's frustration at Billy's ability to beat around the bush and avoid getting to the point. But it's the second act where the show really gets into its stride, and perhaps it's no coincidence that this is the more Maureen Lipman-heavy half of the play. As we finally learn the secrets of Billy, Elli and Joe's past, the emotional drama on stage starts to hit home.
Lipman is instantly superb; she has some great lines and delivers them effortlessly, and there's some real depth to her character. For Shearer and Cotton it takes a little longer. Shearer's voice is so famous for audience members of a certain generation that it take a long time to accept that it isn't actually Principal Skinner on stage - and Cotton's a frustrating ball of nervous energy and occasionally just taking the performance a little too far.
Once it gets to the meat of the story, Daytona is easier to enjoy, but this still feels like a flawed production. The set is a touch too small for the large Theatre Royal stage, and the New York apartment design doesn't obviously set the scene - hence the need for a massive and slightly clunky backdrop to put the show in time and place.
And the characters themselves are tough to like, despite their difficult and somewhat heroic back-stories. Daytona asks interesting questions but doesn't quite have all the right answers.