I have no idea what to expect from Oliver Cotton’s Daytona when I arrive at the theatre this evening. As a brand new play (only performed for the first time in July this year), I haven’t heard much about it, and the publicity doesn’t give away many clues. The name, Daytona, and the image of a splash in a swimming pool on the theatre poster, implies a sun-kissed, possibly romantic, story. The blurb somewhat overplays the role of ballroom-dancing in the narrative (if you are expecting a theatre version of Strictly Come Dancing, this might not be the play for you). Needless to say, most of the audience seems to be there for the fabulous three-person cast of Maureen Lipman, Harry Shearer and John Bowe, and the cast certainly doesn’t disappoint.
Maureen Lipman as Elli is a feisty New Yorker with a thick accent and a sharp wit. I’m sure Tim Charrington (the accent coach for the production) must be proud of Lipman’s ability to abandon her British accent and become a convincing Jewish American, with a hint of Austria in her voice when she’s angry. Her performance is strong, caustic, and very real. Harry Shearer plays Joe, Elli’s husband, slightly downtrodden and nearing the end of his tether with all that life throws at him over the 15 or so hours of the play’s events. However, it is John Bowe as Joe’s long-lost brother Billy who steals the show. From his entrance – “Billy the Kid…who do you think? It’s your brother Billy!” – he holds the audience in the palm of his hand, waiting on his every word. His coming disrupts the lives of the couple, and yet the audience is drawn to him for his large voice, figure, and personality. It would be hard to imagine anyone else in this role, as Bowe plays it so magnificently.
The play is made up almost entirely of two-person conversations. The first act, mostly between Billy and Joe, is intensely dramatic, and so after the interval, in the conversation between Elli and Billy, the action seems to slacken a little. This is probably because of the contrast between the subject matter of the two conversations, but some of the speeches feel a bit drawn out, and ultimately pack less of a punch than the first act. When all three characters are on stage towards the end, the tension is raised again, and everything feels much more exciting.
It would be a real shame to miss these fantastic actors in such an unusual, darkly humorous, and unexpectedly gritty play. – @bookingaround