Driving Miss Daisy, Wyndham's Theatre, London
Monday 17 October 2011
Written to be performed by two veteran luminaries and unfolding in a succession of car trips, Alfred Uhry's 1987 play Driving Miss Daisy might be deemed the very definition of a "star vehicle".
Transferred from Broadway where it did sell-out business, David Esbjornson's revival can certainly boast stellar power, in the shape of James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave. The strength of their talent and the evident depth of their mutual respect lend moral weight to a piece which – despite its Pulitzer Prize and the Oscar-winning movie it spawned – still comes across as excessively sentimental, flimsy and evasive in its episodic treatment of the friendship that gradually develops between a cantankerous Atlanta Jewish matron and her black chauffeur during the momentous period from 1948 to 1973.
All tightly reproving mouth, blue-eyed glare and bristling testiness, Redgrave is very funny at conveying the resentment of this retired Southern school-ma'am when her son lumbers her with Hoke Colburn, a driver of colour; and her road-worthiness and her professed racial tolerance are brought into question. Triumphant in her belief that Hoke has pinched a tin of salmon, she extends the empty tin on a pair of tongs in the outflung pose of a Musketeer offering a fencing challenge and then brandishes it above her head like the Statue of Liberty's torch. When Hoke's innocence is humblingly proved, she hilariously tries to mask her mortification in the ostentatiously elegant manner with which she sweeps up the garbage can and exits, as if in the hope that a parade of social graciousness will distract from the moral gracelessness of her mistake.
The calm dignity of Jones's Hoke is an excellent foil for the agitated stubborness of Redgrave's Miss Daisy. It's a witty performance, too, wonderfully adept at slow-burn deadpan teases and at applying moral pressure (for pay rises etc) through an almost parodically steady, guilt-inducing stare. Miss Daisy's son (the likeable Boyd Gaines) is especially susceptible to this technique.
Uhry's three-hander counterpoints the thaw in relations between the central couple with the progress of the civil-rights movement in the American South. The projections that highlight this – the sign, say, that reads "This is KKK country" when Hoke drives for the first time outside his native Georgia – aren't calculated to disguise the cursory way Uhry links the personal and the political.
Again and again, though, superb acting makes up for the two-dimensional sketch-like writing.
To 17 December (0844 482 5125)
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Home Office says Nigerian asylum-seeker can’t be a lesbian as she’s got children
- 2 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 3 Japanese island overrun with cats after population explodes
- 4 Apple and Google users being spied on for a decade because of 'Freak' security flaw
- 5 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
Kurt Cobain's life and death: Montage of Heck film uses unseen footage to tell Nirvana frontman's story
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Drugs Live: Twitter responds to Jon Snow and Jennie Bond smoking cannabis
Jimmy McGovern's new TV series 'Banished': Why Australia's past has such resonance today
The Walking Dead, Remember, review: The discovery of a new community leads Rick to a dark decision
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'