BWW Review: DRIVING MISS DAISY, York Theatre Royal
Set in Atlanta, Georgia, against the backdrop of some of the most tumultuous and pivotal years in American history, the play follows 72-year-old Miss Daisy Werthan after she writes off her car and is deemed unfit to drive by her son. When she is forced to rely on African-American driver Hoke Colburn, neither of them suspect that over the course of 20 years and many more miles, a deep and enduring friendship will develop between the two.
With a cast of just three - Paula Wilcox as the titular Miss Daisy, Maurey Richards as Hoke, and Cory English as Daisy's son Boolie - the chemistry between the actors is an important part of the success of Uhry's play. Thankfully, the performers in director Suzanne McClean's production have it in spades.
All three actors bring a sense of history to their roles. They feel like fully realised characters with lives already lived - a vital element of a story which has the experiences of older people at its heart.
Wilcox is at times tight-lipped and sharp, ever the Southern widow, but is ultimately a feisty woman with an independent spirit, and a caring mother and friend. Her portrayal of Daisy towards the end of the play is particularly moving, and delivered with exceptional grace.
Richards is undeniably charming as Hoke, but his emotional dexterity shines in the second half of the play, where he gives us glimpses of a life shaped by the experiences of growing up as a black man at a time when racial tensions were dangerously high. English is deeply likeable and often very funny as Boolie, and he and Wilcox play excellently off one another.
The staging of the production is pared back to leave plenty of room for the subtleties within the dialogue. Designer Emma Wee's set feels simple and spacious, with the focal point being an impressive car which rotates to great effect.
Projections by AV designer Ed Sunman decorate the walls above the car showing newspaper clippings, taking the story through monumental moments in the civil rights movement, and create a real sense of movement when used to show the car travelling. The ageing of the characters over 20 years is skilfully done, with subtle changes to costuming and movement.
This is not a play that boasts intense drama or even significant conflict, but it is a great work of theatre that explores themes of age, family, friendship and race, and glows with a quiet emotional power. This production brings out the very best in Uhry's writing; it is gentle, charming, moving, and genuinely enjoyable to watch.
Photo credit: Sam Taylor