Review – Daytona starring Maureen Lipman at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

I had intended to catch Daytona at the Park Theatre earlier this year and so was thrilled to hear it had transferred to the Theatre Royal Haymarket for a short West End run. I have always admired Maureen Lipman as an actress and, although I wash’t a huge fan of A Little Night Music a few years ago, she was great and so the opportunity to see her in something else on stage was quite appealing. I was also interested to learn that actor Oliver Cotton, who has written the play, was also starring in the West End transfer.

Maureen Lipman & Harry Shearer
Maureen Lipman & Harry Shearer

Daytona is a fairly contained play. All the drama takes place in one setting in 1986 Brooklyn, in the home of Joe and Elli, a Jewish migrant couple who have been married and living in the States for decades and who enjoy spending their time competing in senior ballroom dancing competitions. In to their fairly mundane, safe existence appears Joe’s brother Billy, whom they have not seen for almost 30 years. However, this is not a play about a happy, comfortable reunion and as the story progresses we delve in to their past, their secrets and how these have impacted the lives each of the three characters has chosen to live over the decades.

I am cautious not to give too much of the plot away here, as part of the power of the play is discovering truths as you watch it. The first Act focuses mainly on the two brothers and, although crucial for laying the foundations for Act 2, I found this to be quite slow, with the drama picking up more in Act 2, in which Maureen Lipman’s Elli plays a far larger role. The play begins telling one story – that of Billy, who is fleeing Daytona where he has carried out a serious crime linked to their shared past during World War II, but then becomes something different, in which the focus is on the dynamic and connections these three people have shared for years.

All three actors are very good indeed. Harry Shearer (better known here in the UK for his voice work on The Simpsons, where he voices characters including Mr Burns) is strong as Joe. He clearly loves his wife very much and is content with the life they have shared over the years. Oliver Cotton is very good as Billy (a role he didn’t play himself at the play’s run at the Park Theatre). It must be daunting to act in your own play, but he handles it wonderfully. Billy is quite a complicated man, who I both liked and disliked, which made him interesting to watch and he has a great chemistry with both actors, but especially with Maureen Lipman.

Oliver Cotton & Harry Shearer
Oliver Cotton & Harry Shearer

However, the heart of the drama is Ellli and Maureen Lipman is superb in the role. We see her display so many emotions, from affection for her husband, to playfulness, to anger, regret and deep sadness and I couldn’t help but be moved by her character. There is a particular point in which she recalls an emotional memory and as she does so, her accent changes so that her Jewish roots become more strongly recognisable. I assume this is a deliberate choice and it works very well indeed.

Some may say Daytona is a bit too slow, but it’s a very powerful, moving story, which is incredibly well acted by its cast and I would certainly recommend it.

Daytona continues its run at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 23rd August 2014. For more details visit the Haymarket’s website here.

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