Driving Miss Daisy review at Richmond Theatre, London – ‘tender and intimate’
This 30th anniversary revival of Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer-winning play by Theatre Royal Bath is a salient reminder of how sometimes the most simple of theatrical ideas can be the most powerful.
Driving Miss Daisy, famously brought to the screen in 1989 with Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman, is the first work of what was to become known as the Atlanta trilogy, based on the experience of Jewish families in early 20th century Georgia – the final part being Jason Robert Brown’s musical Parade.
As the ageing Miss Daisy, Sian Phillips’ Southern accent may veer off course on more than one occasion, but she conveys the woman’s strength. She is a fighter; she fought poverty on Forsyth Street in her youth and now she is battling the effects of growing old and what she perceives as interferences from the son – a spirited Teddy Kempner – who only want to take care of her. Phillips’ brittle facade eventually softens when faced with the easy pragmatism of Derek Griffiths, as Hoke, the African American chauffeur she reluctantly comes to accept – and befriend.
The chemistry between these two actors not only drives Richard Beecham’s production but also focuses on the play’s more intimate themes of friendship and the onset of old age. Beecham’s direction has the necessary light touch but the decision to include an interval causes the gears to grind.