Theatre Review: Driving Miss Daisy, King’s Theatre

Don Warrington and Gwen Taylor in Driving Miss Daisy
Don Warrington and Gwen Taylor in Driving Miss Daisy
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WHEN you die, who is it that you envisage being there to guide you through the options? If you find yourself doing a long prison sentence, who is it that you expect to narrate events after you’ve escaped? Have some spare penguins and need an authoritative voice over? Obviously, it has to be Morgan Freeman.

Driving Miss Daisy

King’s Theatre, Leven Street * * * * *

And so it was with the Pulitzer and Oscar-winning Driving Miss Daisy, not only was Freeman on hand in the film to guide us gently through the turbulent decades of societal change in mid-20th century Atlanta, but he took the lead role in the original play too. So how do you compete with God?

Well, you don’t, which is what make’s Don Warrington’s handling of Hoke the chauffeur so appealing. He’s a cheerful everyman, the sort of guy you’d have a chat over the gate with when he delivers your milk, his shoulders are less weighted by the burden of history and meaningful nuance than Freeman. It’s the same with Gwen Taylor’s Jewish matriarch Daisy, rather than bringing with her the implication of centuries of oppression and prejudice, she’s a fresh, rambunctious old lady who’s really rather set in her ways. In essence, they’re just two regular people.

Which is why the emotional gravity of the production creeps up on you unexpectedly in the final scenes. Director David Esbjornson has the lightest of touches, where another director might put emphasis on a meaningful moment with long pauses or drawn out looks, he makes them as casual and ephemeral as those moments would be in daily life.

The understated stage also gives one pause to assume, on face value, that Driving Miss Daisy is a cheerful little day trip through the Civil Rights movement viewed through the prism of Daisy and Hoke’s unfolding relationship. Yet this belies something more profound and universal, not only is the production a stark look at attitudes of the time, it follows the ageing of two people with dignity and humour.

It’s rare in drama that we have the opportunity to witness two characters interact over such a long period of time. This adaption is just as much of a record of Daisy’s descent from independence into the confused vulnerability of old age, something we often shy away from examining, as it is an allegory about race.

n Run ends Saturday.