Miss Daisy’s abiding lesson
It’s 30 years since Alfred Uhry’s play – a gentle story of a tenuous bridge built across a racial and class divide in Atlanta, Georgia, based on the author’s own grandmother – won him a Pulitzer Prize. The subsequent film also snagged Uhry an Oscar for best screenplay.
It’s a simple piece, simply staged, here played with all the leisurely graciousness of the upper-class Deep South, deftly depicting over 25 years from 1948 a growing, sometimes grudging acceptance by a rich, 72-year-old Jewish widow of one man and changing times.
When appearances-obsessed Daisy crashes her car, she is forced by her son Boolie (an excellent Teddy Kempner) to take on a black chauffeur, Hoke.
The frosty rapport – as the penny-pinching, mistrustful old lady refuses to let him drive her to the Piggly Wiggly shop, and even wrongly accuses him of stealing a tin of salmon – eventually thaws, notably when she discovers he can’t read and teaches him.
Over the years the civil rights movement progresses and the pair’s relationship takes steps forwards and back just like the race issue itself. Hoke is a humble man yet with great selfrespect who is not afraid to fight back when he has to. Derek Griffiths plays him with understated emotion and perfect comic timing (clearly honed years ago on Play Away) as he commands the old lady’s car (sparely represented by a silver steering wheel). Siân Phillips’s prickly, proud Daisy is vocally a little one-note at first but her performance grows as she mellows, showing kindness clothed in brusqueness, and the pair turn into a gently bickering odd couple. At the end, in a home with dementia, her submitting to Hoke feeding her is a poignant final moment. Not exactly earth-shattering stuff, and Richard Beecham’s Bath Theatre Royal production could do with revving up a gear in places, but if you wonder why this vehicle is worth cranking up again, the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, provide the answer.
Far left: Siân Phillips as Daisy (also above) and Derek Griffiths as Hoke