Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 21 July 2013

Daytona

Park Theatre ⋄ 10th July - 18th August 2013

Dancing with the past.

Lauren Mooney

Daytona – the new play by Oliver Cotton, who is currently performing in Passion Play at the Duke of York’s Theatre – is set entirely in the living room of a Brooklyn flat in 1986, presents a day in the life of Joe and Elli, a lively couple in their early seventies.

The opening scenes are  pure naturalism as we join them on the eve of the Seniors’ Ballroom Dancing competition for which they have been furiously rehearsing. Harry Shearer and Maureen Lipman nag and snipe at each other convincingly, with all the affection and familiarity of people who have spent their lives together.

But when Joe’s estranged brother Billy (John Bowe) appears on their doorstep  after thirty years of absolute silence, evidence of the trio’s forced participation in the very darkest depths of European history begins to surface. Billy has rushed to New York from his  family holiday in Daytona, Florida, to tell his brother about the man he saw there, staying in his hotel – a man they thought dead. A man who none of them have seen since they were freed from the Nazi concentration camps some forty years previously.

It’s something of a surprise to learn that these aging New Yorkers are actually Austrian Jews. Given that are supposed to have moved to America late in life it’s jarring how they now sound so utterly American, especially when you consider that if Joe is seventy-four, he must have been into his thirties by the time the Second World War ended.  It’s a small point but it stretches credibility a little, to say the least. Lipman is the only cast member in whose voice a trace of an Austrian accent can be detected. Hers is a performance of beautiful realism; as is often the case in life, Elli’s accent becomes most pronounced at times of high emotion. This is well-observed by Lipman, but in so many ways it’s a remarkable performance. Elli bristles with pain, with the mature sadness of a pain which one has grown used to and knows well.

As her reserved, rather cynical husband, Shearer is nicely understated for the most part – but in the scenes that require more in the way of emotional intensity, there is something lacking, as if he can’t quite reach those heights. For a while it looks like a deliberate decision to down-play, a facet of the repressed nature of the character, but towards the end of the piece, when the scripted reactions of Elli and Billy suggest that Joe is furious, livid, Shearer’s performance never climbs above a six (out of eleven). In the most emotionally intense sequences, Bowe and Lipman blow him pretty much out of the water.

The slightly convoluted play contains some beautiful writing in spite of its tendency to have characters speak in vast monologues. Bowe spends most of the first half talking nearly uninterruptedly, Lipman much of the second, which is very capital-‘t’ Theatrical – but conversely, Daytona is often very understated which is greatly to its credit.

For instance, Cotton resists the kind of heightened dramatic showdown you might expect to round out a play of this kind and his three characters gain in grace as a result. There is no need: these people have seen and done far too much. And in Elli, Cotton has created a beautifully written character, who is in turn beautifully played by Lipman. Elli is that rarest of things – a female lead written for an older woman, one who is likeable, interesting, and flawed without being vilified for it, strong without being superhuman, and funny to boot. While it’s a far from perfect play, it’s one which contains many treasures – and the character of Elli is a truly wonderful creation.

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Lauren Mooney

Lauren Mooney is a writer, producer and arts administrator based in London. As well as writing for Exeunt and The Stage, Lauren works at Clean Break and is the writer-producer for Kandinsky.

Daytona Show Info


Directed by David Grindley

Written by Oliver Cotton

Cast includes Maureen Lipman, Harry Shearer, John Bowe

Link http://parktheatre.co.uk/

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