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Review: Driving Miss Daisy at The Churchill Theatre, Bromley
DRIVING Miss Daisy left me reeling from the journey through bigotry, old age and friendship.
Last year’s Churchill Theatre production has returned and again features Rising Damp star Don Warrington as well as Gwen Taylor who played Anne Foster in Coronation Street.
Alfred Uhry’s play, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, focuses on the unlikely friendship between a prickly southern Jewish lady Daisy Werthan (Taylor) and her kindly chauffeur Hoke Colburn (Warrington).
As the tensions in Atlanta simmer, threatening both Jews and black people, the two characters go on personal journeys.
Both the leads convey the passing of time over the 25 years, the burden of old age and, more than anything, the contradictory nature of friendship.
For most of the play, Daisy can’t seem to stand her driver and yet, at the very end, when she seems to be losing her mind, she acknowledges with startling clarity: “You are my best friend.”
The vulnerability is touching and well played, as it veers away from mawkish and instead is understated.
Daisy begins fiercely resenting Hoke, then depends on him and finally likes and respects him.
Miss Daisy will strike a chord with many a cowering family member who lives with a similar matriarch, particularly those with a teaching background such as Daisy. Taylor plays the role with matriarchal aplomb.
Daisy’s son Boolie (Ian Porter) represents the American Dream of commercial success, built on his grandfather’s tiny outlet, and also reveals much of the hypocrisy in America during the 1950s and 1960s.
He’s keen to have a “coloured” man drive his mother around but reluctant to attend a Martin Luther King banquet in case it damages his business reputation.
Boolie’s concern for his mother is touching however and his last words, “You’re a doodle, Ma” reveal how his frustration is bound up with unremitting love.
The socially mobile daughter-in-law hovers like a spectre over the characters — she is never seen but always referred to scathingly by Daisy and fearfully by Boolie.
She appears to be the shadow of the more malignant America — that which remains bigoted against black people and Jews — as opposed to Daisy, who goes on a journey and connects with Hoke.
The star of the show for me was Warrington. His interpretation of Hoke, with an immaculate Southern accent, combined openness with a charm.
When Hoke manages to squeeze a pay rise from his employer and Boolie is left agog at the impressiveness of the negotiation.
Hoke’s reactions sometimes shocked, for example his outburst when he was told he couldn’t stop for a toilet break while driving.
He said: “I am not a child! I’m 72. How do you think it makes me feel to ask you when I can pass water?”
Hoke never appears embarrassed and instead shows a sense of pride and power throughout — dignity resonates through every movement and it is unsurprising when others try to recruit him.
Warrington manages to puff his stocky form up in the early scenes to show a bulky, masculine physicality while letting it slacken and seemingly shrink in the later scenes to show the mellowing of old age.
This play, like Daisy herself, is no soft touch.
It shines a light over the most prickly of themes and does so masterfully.
Driving Miss Daisy, The Churchill, Bromley High Street, until March 23. Tickets cost from £10 to £32.
For more information, visit atgtickets.com