Miss Daisy’s abid­ing les­son

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - THEATRE - the­atreroyal.org.uk Mark Cook

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

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