On the surface, Driving Miss Daisy looks like a timely choice of revival. The play explores the relationship between an African American chauffeur and his Jewish employer, set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement. In different ways, and to differing extents, both characters face the kind of prejudice that is all too evident in Trump’s America.
But Alfred Uhry’s play, first performed in 1987, never goes much beyond that surface analysis of racism. The structural is neglected in favour of the individual. Spiky moments of confrontation and critique melt into a sentimental portrait of ageing. Staged today, it all feels a bit quaint.
Driving Miss Daisy is perhaps better considered a showcase for actors than a piece of sharp social commentary, but Suzann McLean’s laboured production short-changes both play and performers. Despite a relatively short running time, the action drags. There’s an attempt to highlight historical context with the use of projected news reports, but the insertion of these headlines between scenes makes Uhry’s already bitty play feel even more fragmented.
Emma Wee’s design, meanwhile, falls awkwardly between metaphor and realism. The staging is overly literal in some ways while also demanding that audiences suspend their disbelief. Naturalistic props are brought on for single scenes, yet we’re often asked to ignore the hulking car that sits centre-stage throughout.
While Paula Wilcox ages convincingly as Daisy, and there is real tenderness between her and Maurey Richards’ chauffeur Hoke in the later scenes, the performances are not enough to give the show the substance it lacks elsewhere.