31 October 2011

Driving Miss Daisy

When a play can be called a "Pulitzer Prize-winning classic" and stars Vanessa Redgrave then I am going to be interested.

So just a couple of hours after leaving a theatre in Piccadilly I found myself in another one, this time by Leicester Square.

As before I had gone for the cheap seats and they do not come much cheaper than the very back row of the theatre. That's Row D in the Balcony that hangs high above the Stalls, Royal Circle and Grand Circle.

From here the view is almost straight down but that's OK. I'm used to high seats and I like the way that you can see the whole stage and the movement across it. This is why sports coverage is always from a raised viewpoint rather than the touchline. One day theatres will realise this and change their pricing but until then I'll continue going up saving money.

The play has a simple construct. A Southern matriarch has a driving accident and so her concerned son arranges a chauffeur for her. We then follow their relationship develop over the weeks, months and years.

This starts in the post-war austerity of 1948 and well before the Civil Rights movement started.

The matriarch and chauffeur are both very clear on their position in society but the chauffeur also has self-assurance and happily shows this.

It takes a while for the ice to break but it does and the conversations between the two widen and deepen. Through this we learn a lot more about the society they live in and how it starts to change.

The story leaps forward and helpful signs tell us what year we have moved to. The changing cars are no clue here as they are all represented by the same bench and chair.

The other clue that we got were the occasional references to national news, particularly when the matriarch went to a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. But that was given to us almost as a passing moment and it was up to us to recognised the historical importance of that.

The other conversations were appropriately ephemeral with stories of other local families and events. And that's as it should be; what else would you talk to your chauffeur about?

The relationship between the two develops too and they become closer while remaining well within the accepted bounds employer and employee.

It could be easy to think that lacking any significant plot or any stand-out moments that Driving Miss Daisy is a weak play but that would be to misunderstand it.

The dialogue is the play and this swings along like a good Glen Miller tune, rich in melody and fun. There is a little pathos too but that comes at the end and closes the play with a gentle contrast the earlier banter.

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