Thursday 18 July 2013

Daytona - Theatre Review

Park Theatre, London


Written by Oliver Cotton
Directed by David Grindley

John Bowe and Harry Shearer

Daytona is a cleverly crafted tale of love amidst denial and despair. A play that never leaves the 1986 Brooklyn apartment of Joe and Elli, married septuagenarians with a passion for ballroom dancing, lives lived almost to the full, with happinesses and tragedies amassed over the years. Theirs is a childless marriage and for all the polite warmth and fondness they show each other in the opening act, there is a pervading sense of sadness and "getting-by" that seems to be being papered over. When Elli leaves to visit a friend who is working on her ball gown, no sooner has she departed then the doorbell sounds and Billy, Joe's brother who has been self-estranged for thirty years arrives bedraggled. The tale that then unfolds is remarkable, gripping and above all, sensational yet still remaining credible.We learn that the all three characters are Holocaust survivors and that Billy whilst holidaying in Florida the previous week, had recognised an elderly concentration camp guard and war criminal whom he thought had long since been executed. 

The plot unfolds but never unravels and to reveal too much would be to spoil. Suffice to say that Oliver Cotton has written a piece of remarkable sensitivity, throwing complex family dynamics into the harshest of spotlights, whilst also laying bare the damage that the Holocaust caused to the minds of so many who survived its horrors.

Harry Shearer is Joe, who for the most part plays a weary Brooklynese accountant, getting by in managing his demons. Initially little more than a dramatic foil to his wife and brother, it is in the final act, when his demons run amok, that his performance as a man who admits to a lifetime of domestic denial is delicately fleshed out. 

Maureen Lipman is Elli. Her journey since the War is perhaps the most painful to hear of. Emotionally vulnerable in her youth and clearly scarred from enduring so much pain, hers has been the journey back from mental illness. Lipman's dialogs with both brothers, that start mundanely but which crescendo to agonising accusations and revelations, are heart breaking.

Maureen Lipman

The tour de force performance of the night though rests with John Bowe’s Billy. A man who has built the last 30 years of his life around a framework of lies and of a total denial of his past, yet who ultimately finds within himself a resolve of massive strength, that leads him to commit a crime of honourable recklessness. The role is draining, with monologues recounting Billy's life that are relentless, yet Bowe marches through both acts of the play with an admirable defiance. His is surely one of the finest performances to be found on a London stage this year.

David Grindley's pinpoint direction picks apart the subtleties of the human condition, whilst Cotton's writing at times echoes the scalpel like incisiveness of Arthur Miller. Daytona is a fine study on love, self-discovery, and above all, a glorious albeit damaged sense of survival that emerged from the ashes of the Holocaust. A play that should not be missed.

Runs until August 18th and then on tour

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