REVIEW: Driving Miss Daisy at Cambridge Arts Theatre: This play just glides along on velvet

PUBLISHED: 10:06 07 November 2017 | UPDATED: 12:59 07 November 2017

Sian Phillips and Derek Griffiths are in Driving Miss Daisy at Cambridge Arts Theatre. Picture: NOBBY CLARK

Sian Phillips and Derek Griffiths are in Driving Miss Daisy at Cambridge Arts Theatre. Picture: NOBBY CLARK

©Nobby Clark nobby@nobbyclark.co.uk

There never has and never will be better drama than the story of people set against the times they live in. Perhaps it started with Abraham and Isaac or Agamemnon and Antigone.

Driving Miss Daisy, written in 1987 and set 40 years earlier, 1948 to 1973, is a gem and in the hands of Sian Phillips, Derek Griffiths and Teddy Tempner, it’s a diamond, hard-edged, glittering and it always sparkles.

Put simply, Daisy Werthan from the American South is 72 and her son Boolie thinks that’s old. Too old to drive anyway since she has managed to write off her car, demolish a garage and smash a free-standing toolshed by putting the thing in the wrong gear.

So against Daisy’s protests, Boolie hires Hoke Colburn as her chauffeur. She is Jewish, he is Black. Over the next 25 years the country struggles with change and their relationship finally settles down. Daisy keeps saying that she is “not prejudiced” but she doesn’t like being a passenger and she feels uncomfortable with servants. But over the years, once they understand each other’s vulnerabilities, they become deep friends.

The performances in this production are flawless. There is a delicate and understated touch so that it is amusing throughout. Both Sian Phillip’s Daisy and Derek Griffiths’ Hoke have subtle and wry delivery that is light as lace. Their characters drive you lovingly through the world they create.

“Did I tell you about the first time I left Georgia?” asks Hoke.

“No”, says Daisy.

“Well,” says Hoke. “It was 20 minutes ago.”

Against this human warmth, the reality of American’s apartheid is brutal. He needs to stop the car along the highway because “Coloreds can’t use the toilets in the petrol stations”.

The play, written by by Alfred Uhry, was based on his grandmother Lena Fox and her driver Will Coleman. She really did crash her car with that amount of devastation and, like Daisy, got away without even smashing her glasses. He said they were real people, living in a real place at a real time. Directed by Richard Beecham, this 30th anniversary revival makes them not just real but eternal.

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