Daytona, Theatre Royal Haymarket, review: Fails to ring true

 

There's an Arthur Miller-like feel to the set-up in Oliver Cotton's play: two estranged brothers; the moral and emotional fall-out of the Holocaust; the corrosive consequences of denying one's Jewishness.

And watching David Grindley's production (first seen last year at the Park Theatre, now transferred to the West End), I couldn't help fervently wishing that the Miller of, say, Broken Glass had got to the material first.  There's real potential in the premise; it's because of authorial clumsiness in the way the idea is handled that the play comes over as hollow and unearned. 

We're in Brooklyn in 1986 and Joe and Elli, a long-married septuaginarian couple (Harry Shearer and Maureen Lipman who capture their niggling but contented-through-habit relationship well) are practising in their apartment for a seniors' ballroom dancing competition the following night.  

After Ellie leaves for a dress fitting, there's a ring at the door and in walks Joe's brother and former business partner, Billy (played by Cotton himself).  The siblings haven't seen each other in thirty years since Billy disappeared without trace leaving Joe in serious debt and now here he is out of the blue  – eccentrically clad, for the depth of winter, in a Hawaiian shirt and sweat pants under an outsize overcoat and bearing enough Chinese take-away to feed the neighbourhood. 

There are two big revelations in the play – concerning why Billy has come back and why he vanished in the first place.  It's impossible to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the piece without addressing the former and if you wish to keep this as a surprise, I suggest that you stop reading now.  

As he knocks back the whisky, Billy tells a drawn-out story of how, while holidaying at Daytona Beach in Florida, he recognised a face from the wartime past: a concentration camp guard.  He's now on the run, having shot the man in the swimming pool before hundreds of witnesses.  Cotton's performance registers vividly the weird mix of euphoria and perplexity in Billy for whom this reckless gesture seems to have been one of self-atonement as well as summary justice.

Shearer's Joe glowers bitterly as the overshadowed brother who resents having this shocking news brought to him as though it were a kind of gift.  And he's all the more unsympathetic when it emerges that Billy has reinvented himself as a Christian family man and real estate dealer in Cleveland, Ohio – creating a queasy correspondence, in terms of erased previous existences, with the guard (if so he was) that Billy has just killed.  

The trouble, though, is that far too much is schematically signalled and fails to ring true. The characters do certain things (the wanted man request a climactic ballroom dance exhibition from the other two. say) not from plausible motives but to serve the creaky dramatic structure. The best parts are the long set-pieces which almost made me feel that, given Cotton's gift for these, the story would have been better told as interwoven monologues. 

I'm rather hobbled in talking about Lipman's excellent performance by having to preserve a secret.  But, her New York accent slipping into Mittel-European under the pressure of remembered loss, she is gently devastating as the sad drily witty wife who has had to learn make the most of the second best.

To 23 August; 0207 930  8800

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
    Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

    That's a bit rich

    The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
    Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
    Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

    Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

    Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

    David Starkey's assessment
    Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

    'An enormous privilege and adventure'

    Oliver Sacks writing about his life
    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
    Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

    Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

    Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests