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Theatre: Driving Miss Daisy


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This  John Frost production is full of swagger and verve; we truly are in the company of brilliance. With Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones as the key protagonists, you could be forgiven for thinking Driving Miss Daisy is simply an opportunity to marvel at these master craftspeople while quietly concocting the “we saw them live” stories. The real strength of this performance, however, is that it does not rely solely on reputations. To honestly tell Alfred Uhry’s tale, it has to be a whole company event – and this most certainly is.

 Daisy (Lansbury) is a widowed Jewish matriarch and Hoke (Jones) is an unemployed African-American chauffeur. Both in their early 70s, they are thrust together against the backdrop of racial and religious bigotry that is US state of Georgia in 1948 when Daisy’s only child, Boolie (Boyd Gaines), hires Hoke to drive for his spirited mother.

Despite their vastly different backgrounds, a relationship is born and we get to watch how this and the nation develop over the next 25 years, with increasing understanding, appreciation and respect.

Director David Esbjornson leads a dynamic team. Peter Kaczorowski’s cycloramic projections consolidate settings, John Lee Beatty’s set pieces move unobtrusively and with grace (what a car!), Mark Bennett’s music caresses with familiarity, and the amplified cast simply astounds. Bravo to Cameron Flint as technical director and Matthew Farrell as stage manager – along with Esbjornson, they create seamless transitions that exude beauty.

Timing is exquisite, and Daisy’s ageless appeal cannot be questioned when presented with such professionalism. Belly-laughs bubble from the stalls as our characters grow old together; we are captivated by dulcet tones and precision of emphasis, unobtrusive movement noticeably unnoticeable; strained silence is mesmerising as we realise that this is a play about people, people like us. We are touched as Hoke espouses “things are changing … they ain’t changed that much”.

Engaging, endearing, empowering: that’s the way it works. This is one show it is worth the effort to attend, reminding us that we are never too old to learn – “If you know your letters, then you can read, you just don’t know you can read”.

Drive to the theatre now!

Driving Miss Daisy is at Her Majesty’s Theatre until June 2.

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