It’s gone in circles from stage to screen several times over now, so Alfred Uhry’s Atlanta-set Driving Miss Daisy has to be up there with the modern classics for me. Whilst England’s White Rose City might be halfway around the globe from the Georgian state capital, this much-loved tale still seems a relatively low risk choice by York Theatre Royal for its latest in-house show.
Although Uhry won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for the piece, following the opening of the original stage production, you may perhaps know it better for the cinematic adaptation that claimed Best Picture victory at the 1990 Oscars. The play showcases a biographical take on the autumnal years of elderly widow Daisy Werthan with a cynosure of her close friendship with her African-American chauffeur: Hoke Colburn. For the Thunderbirds fans amongst you, think Lady Penelope and Parker in FAB 1, but this time without any strings to hold back their emotions.
‘You’d do well to see any revivals that thematically explore this classic better’
This is a production with some incredibly heart-wrenching scenes, and bountiful bouquets must be handed to the actors and director Suzann McLean for the rigor taken in rehearsing these extracts. Side-stepping any spoilers, these scenes often sport a slower pace, spotlighting poignant issues such as racial prejudice and senescence. Emma Wee’s design is largely endearing, especially her fastidious costumes. Daisy’s spotless, white gloves act as a redolence of the image she desperately tries to maintain. Likewise, the Christmas tree-tessellated jumper adorning Daisy’s son, Boolie, affirms his jovialness.
Despite such positives, some events lack clarity. Whether in terms of character development or discourse structure, moments too often feel ambiguous for my liking. The car’s design is also quite problematic in that its window framing, which appears quite unnecessary, considerably impairs the audience’s view of the actors seated within it. To add to this, the car’s orientation seems completely random and, when in motion, significantly out of sync with the video projection of the bypassing landscape. It breaks what would otherwise be a wonderfully enthralling illusion.
Actor-wise, Daisy’s decline is depicted expertly by Paula Wilcox. The Upstart Crow star offers a sharp-witted, strong-willed woman to start before regressing into a character of greater feebleness but one that retains the sparkle of her earlier years. As the devoted Boolie, Cory English, similarly bolsters the performance with a large oomph of energy every time he comes onstage. In fact, the only major acting concern is the diction of Maurey Richards as Hoke. This didn’t, however, hinder the fortress-like chemistry shared between him and his counterparts nor his dominating physical presence.
Considering its flaws, it might’ve been more beneficial for Hoke to have been a mechanic than a chauffeur, but you’d do well to see any revivals that thematically explore this classic better than this production. This is, nevertheless, hardly surprising given McLean’s observation: ‘the lessons that we share can be as important as what appears to divide us’.
Driving Miss Daisy runs at the York Theatre Royal until June 29th. Tickets can be purchased here.