Driving Miss Daisy Theatre Royal, Bath 7/10
THIS story by Pulitzer prize winner Alfred Uhry has had many tellings on screen and stage, producing some memorable pairings to portray the crusty old Southern grande dame and her amiable black chauffeur who travel together along the slow lane into old age.
Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman teamed up for the Oscar-winning 1989 film, Wendy Hiller and Clarke Peters starred in the first London stage production and Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones sparred with each other last year in the West End. Gwen Taylor and Don Warrington now join forces for this touring production which chugs along the sentimental highway gently enough without ever quite getting into top gear.
Wealthy-but-careful Jewish widow Daisy Werthan refuses to acknowledge that, although accident prone and in her 70s, she must give up driving. Her son hires Hoke Coleburn and over the next 20 years passenger and driver battle their way around the state of Georgia. At first she refuses even to get in the vehicle – depicted by set designer John Lee Beatty in skeleton form by a steering wheel, a park bench and a revolving turntable – and then reluctantly agrees to be transported to the local Piggly Wiggly supermarket at no more than 19 miles an hour.
Gwen Taylor and Don Warrington both have their bright individual moments but the comedy is muted and the situations often repetitive.
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The real strength comes towards the end of David Esbjornson's 90 minutes production when the protagonists realise that all they have in common is old age and they finally come to appreciate each other. Ian Porter completes the cast as the exasperated son Boolie. A large video backdrop projects the places and events of the times – from 1948 to 1972 – which are dominated by the Civil Rights struggle led by Martin Luther King.