Daytona - 9 July 2014 Review

Heaps of potential but lengthy monologues stunt the flow of this new play.

I was pretty excited to get my teeth stuck into this, dare I say ‘gritty’, drama, especially with stars such as Maureen Lipman, Harry Shearer (none other than the voice of Mr Burns and Ned Flanders from the Simpsons) and the play’s writer Oliver Cotton in the three roles. The plot of Oliver Cotton’s ‘Daytona’ is full of surprises to keep you on the edge of your seat. I can’t reveal too many of them here, but trust me, it’s got more jaw-dropping plot twists than an Eastenders omnibus.

I won’t spoil the surprises, but the drama’s basic plot is this: Elli (Lipman) and Joe (Shearer) are an elderly Jewish couple living in 1980s New York. They’re rehearsing in their apartment for a dance contest which is taking place the following night. Elli leaves for a dress fitting and suddenly Joe’s estranged brother Billy knocks on the door. They haven’t seen each other for 30 years - duh-duh-duuuh! Billy has just returned from a holiday on Florida’s Daytona Beach, where he saw an unexpected person from his past. Billy, Joe and Elli were imprisoned in a Jewish war camp as children and Billy swears he has seen one of the Nazi officers. He rushes to tell Joe and Elli and find solace in their apartment. All sounds pretty gripping, right? (And don’t worry; I haven’t given away the twists!)

The first scene in Joe and Elli’s apartment was convincing and charming. The couple bicker about their dance steps, the clothes the other is going to wear and which restaurant they’ll go to for dinner. They create such a believable relationship; it seems as if they really have been together for years. But Lipman carries the action and she sadly disappears for the entirety of the 1st Act after this quick ten minute scene.

From then on Harry Shearer and Oliver Cotton are left to carry the Act on their own. The brothers have very little chemistry, which I suppose is understandable after a frosty 30 years, but there was no real emotion. I expected the characters, especially Joe, to be visibly shaken but the pair calmly sat down for a Chinese takeaway and a good Scotch. What?!

The writing limits the action a great deal, which is a shame. The monologues are so vast it sometimes feels like wading through treacle – Billy’s speech takes up most of Act 1. The actors tended to rush over hugely important bits of information; I only just managed to glean that the man Billy saw in Daytona was a Nazi. This might have something to do with the fact that the playwright is performing his own work and clearly knows it off by heart, but we don’t. Breath and slowwww down.

Having said that, Act 2 was certainly worth sticking around for. Maureen Lipman delivers a stunning, tender and heart wrenching performance as Elli in her scene with Billy. She has a typical New York Jewish drawl which suddenly slips back into an Eastern European accent when she’s distressed, which was a really lovely touch and made her character more rounded.

Perhaps this performance is having some teething problems, but at the moment I’d say it doesn’t do the plot justice. The actors mostly work well with
the text they’ve been given but often rush over key elements of the script. Lipman, though, is outstanding – if only she’d had been in it for longer.

Bakersfield Mist Review
9 July 2014, Theatre Royal Haymarket