Saturday 21 April 2018

Review: Sentimental vehicle with moral steel

Theatre: Driving Miss Daisy, Gaiety Theatre, Dublin

Gwen Taylor and Ernest Perry Jr in Driving Miss Daisy at the Gaiety Theatre.
Gwen Taylor and Ernest Perry Jr in Driving Miss Daisy at the Gaiety Theatre.

Katy Hayes

Producers Pat Moylan and Breda Cashe present the Irish premiere of Alfred Uhry's 1987 play which charts the American Civil Rights movement from the 1940s to the 1970s, refracted through the prism of an interracial friendship.

Miss Daisy, an elderly Jewish widow living in Atlanta, has a smash up in her car. She cannot now get insurance, so her son Boolie hires her a black driver called Hoke. There ensues an unlikely friendship between the cussed old lady and her employee, who finds a way around her bad temper and wins her to his person and his politics.

Kate Moylan's set occupies the challenging vertical space of the Gaiety with immense style and Southern elegance, all curves and arches and a simple creeper takes the eye upwards.

The story will be familiar to many from the successful 1989 film with Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy, but the play offers a distinct theatrical edge.

For all the old-fashioned big house setting and feel, the creation of the car with furniture and mime provides a youthful energy which cuts against the age of the characters and the conventionality of the story. Director John P Kelly handles this curious dichotomy between form and subject matter gracefully.

Simon Delaney, as the self-satisfied but ultimately cowardly Boolie, mines some depth in this essentially enabling character in his final simple jealousy of the black man's place in his mother's affections.

Gwen Taylor doesn't have the range and depth for Miss Daisy and is outclassed by the superb Ernest Perry Junior as Hoke, who is completely persuasive; his performance is full of little curlicues and playful touches, but tough too.

Unusually for the Dublin stage, two plays with black lead actors have opened in the last week, the other being Othello with Peter Macon at the Abbey.

Reservations aside, this is a fine opportunity to see this wonderful play; it is a charming vehicle full of decency and for all its sentimental appeal, has a spine of rigid moral steel.

Irish Independent

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