Daytona at Theatre Royal Haymarket
It’s 1986 in Brooklyn, Joe and Elli are in their apartment practising for a ballroom dancing competition when suddenly Joe’s estranged brother Billy bursts in, disrupting their pleasantly mundane domesticity with news that will dredge up the heartbreak of the past. Two stories intertwine: an international tragedy and a personal one. Set entirely in the apartment’s living room over two acts and told through memories of the long-ago past, Daytona’s forward momentum relies heavily on Oliver Cotton’s intricate script.
Despite the fast-paced dialogue, the story itself is slow to unravel. Cotton’s script gives away little snippets of history, dropped like breadcrumbs, so that we’re able to gradually piece it together. Emotions rise in crests as flaring tempers give way to moments of clutched happiness when, for example, the old couple resume dancing or a stolen kiss follows a tantrum. Substantial monologues paint the ache of missed opportunity and the insufficiency of misplaced atonement. Hefty morality questions are raised: are imperfect solutions right for an imperfect world?
Although these rhetorical questions intrigue throughout, the interlacing plots don’t quite fit together and the characters’ objectives seem a little confused. The themes tussle for attention and therefore none are brought sharply into focus.
Cotton’s earnest and adrenalised Billy (actor as well as writer) is a perfect juxtaposition with Harry Shearer’s wary Joe. Shearer, whose voice you might recognise as that of The Simpson’s Mr Burns, makes his West End debut with a perhaps too subtle performance. Maureen Lipman’s Elli is a dry-humoured and likeable matriarch whose wry delivery of the sparse comic lines is the closest thing to light relief in the play. Her New York twang falls away to reveal a European accent as her main monologue progresses, swapping her pragmatism for tenderness.
The few creases in the script aside, Daytona is a piece of intelligent, evocative storytelling, and it’s all told within the lavish, gilded setting of the Theatre Royal Haymarket.
Daytona is on at Theatre Royal Haymarket until 23rd August 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the Q&A with the cast and director of Daytona here: