Driving Miss Daisy at Canal Cafe Theatre
Driving Miss Daisy has become a cultural milestone for many, as a symbol of the slow march to equality. As a play, its motifs are not exactly subtle, but it delights where it counts, and it’s a personable tale with wit. Director Russell Lucas brings this classic to the the Canal Cafe Theatre, a charming, cosy room nestled above a pub in a village area of London.
It’s often a challenge bringing “show business” to small theatres, and it’s in situations like these we see more inventive seating arrangements. Chairs are placed to form a makeshift arena stage, which contributes to the intimacy of the venue. It’s an intelligent idea, but the actors end up using the space in the manner of a traverse stage, disappearing behind rows of audience members, which is a rather severe sight line issue. Despite this problem, the actors use the space well, subliminally dividing it into three separate areas.
Constructed on a shoestring budget, there is a considerable amount of skill that has gone into making the production believable. Simple prop elements, lighting, and acoustic guitar work together to create an atmosphere that builds into a powerful end scene.
The climax of the play is heightened through simple elements like a large nightdress enveloping Miss Daisy, or a change of glasses. The set decoration is also well considered, with plain stools serving as the car, and a pendulous hanging telephone. Props and costume come together with the harness used to attach the steering wheel to Hoke’s chest, a smart idea that helps naturalise the performer’s actions when driving.
There are small annoyances with the design: tiny vintage pictures on the wall and other touches seem superfluous at that size, serving no function, and there’s the threat of falling into amateur dramatics with a “dressing table” holding a mishmash of items in different styles.
All of this is easy to gloss over when the performances are so strong from the small cast, yet it’s towards the end of the play that they really come to life, and you can see the audience bristle with renewed energy. Miss Daisy is beautifully acted by Paddy Glynn, and is convincing as she declines. There are occasional but noticeable slips in her accent that see Daisy go from Georgia to West London, but this does little to detract from her performance. David Nicolle’s Boolie is also superb but, ultimately, it’s Geoffrey Aymer’s Hoke who steals the show with an act that is brilliantly nuanced, and tremendously believable.
For fans of independent theatre, the Canal Cafe puts on a skillful show, that will help support their American Season, a series of plays that intends to support creatives, and initiate a dialogue with US theatre makers.
The West End this is not, but for those who like their performances raw, sans glitter, this is a must see.
Photo: Simon Annand
Driving Miss Daisy is at Canal Cafe Theatre from the 18th of October until 5th of November 2016, for further information or to book visit here.