Daytona, Bath Theatre Royal to Saturday 19 October

WITH a sunny, watery poster recalling David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash and a cast including Maureen Lipman, audiences at Bath this week could be forgiven for thinking they had booked for a comedy set in Florida.

But by the time Oliver Cotton’s remarkable and thought-provoking play Daytona reached its enigmatic conclusion, they realised there were no easy laughs.

Joe and Elli live in the New York home they have converted from the warehouse where Joe ran a floor covering business with his brother Billy. Retired accountant Joe is 74, and Elli admits to 70, and the main part of their lives is spent in ballroom dancing, which they do competitively.

Then, on the eve of a big competition, the doorbell rings and it’s Billy, who hasn’t been seen or heard from for 30 years.

The brothers are physically and emotionally light years apart. Joe is small, precise and systematic. Billy is large, shambling and excitable, and he has something exciting to impart. He’s just shot someone – a man he recognised poolside at a cheap Daytona Beach hotel as the concentration camp guard who imposed a reign of terror on the two boys before the Russian soldiers came to liberate the camp.

The pivot of Oliver Cotton’s play is neither murder nor guilt nor blame nor retribution, but love, and the delicate balances that have grown up organically between the brothers and Elli.

At the start the play, set in a 1980s living room with its authentic furnishings, seems dated, replete with clever one liners and bickering between Joe and his wife of 40 years.

But as it progresses and the story unfolds, there are moments of mesmerising beauty, none greater than Elli’s astonishing monologue of following Billy through the city, vividly evoking every view, sound and smell of an unfamiliar place and all seen through a dream-like filter.

There are many conflicting ways to interpret this play, and neither Cotton, director David Grindley nor the brilliant trio of actors succumbs to providing an easy answer.

It is a superb study of human understanding, with subtly nuanced performances by John Bowe as the complex Billy, Harry Shearer as the buttoned up Joe and Maureen Lipman as Elli.

Daytona, which was first performed in London earlier this year, ends its first tour at Bath on Saturday 19th October, so this is your last chance to see it. Do take that opportunity.


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