Richmond Theatre 11 – 16 September. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Alfred Uhry’s 1987 play, inspired by a family anecdote about his grandmother, is revived in this classy and exquisitely acted production.
When 72-year-old Daisy wrecks her car, and a building, her son Boolie hires Hoke as her chauffeur. Although her late husband’s business success means that she is now wealthy, Daisy is proud of her simple upbringing, and detests any show of wealth. Her initial resentment of Hoke gradually thaws, and the play, covering the years from 1948 to 1973, shows the evolution of their relationship. Set in Atlanta, the characters in Driving Miss Daisy live through the development of the civil rights movement without becoming directly involved, but shifts in their attitudes over the years are clear.
Uhry’s script is full of dry wit, and some cracking one-liners. There is lots of incidental social comment, but it forms the backdrop of the characters’ lives, not driving the plot. This is ultimately a play about friendship, and Siân Phillips and Derek Griffiths have the acting chops to keep the audience entranced throughout this episodic and gently paced play. It says so much about the duo’s consummate skill that one of the most memorable scenes has no dialogue, as they share a picnic in the car displaying perfect comic timing.
I’d better get the car issue out of the way – after a glorious billboard showing a vintage Oldsmobile, the garage door opens and a steering wheel is placed in front of a bench. But it works brilliantly, it’s such a simple conceit that feels perfect with the homespun Southern charm of the play. The white clapperboard set and minimal props add to the atmosphere.
Phillips is luminous as Daisy, cantankerous and fizzing with energy, and subtly signalling Daisy’s advancing years with nuanced body language before the script clarifies leaps in time. Griffiths is her perfect foil, funny, feisty and subservient, but becoming bold and sometimes manipulative as he becomes comfortable in his relationship with the family. Sitting watching pensioners squabble shouldn’t be this entertaining. Teddy Kempner is a memorable Boolie, his frustration and love for his mother is completely believable, and his developing relationship with Hoke is delightful.
The later scenes, in 1973, are gut-wrenching, as Daisy develops dementia and is put in a home, but the final moments between Hoke and Daisy bring a huge grin to your face as the actors effortlessly remind you of the strength of love between the couple. If you’re looking for an action-packed evening, then this play isn’t for you, but if you’re after a warm, witty and wise exploration of friendship, filled with glorious acting, get a ticket to see Driving Miss Daisy.