Driving Miss Daisy, Barn Theatre, Cirencester

IT is 35 years since Alfred Uhry’s play Driving Miss Daisy was first performed, and two years later the multi-Oscar winning film was released.

To mark the anniversary, the exciting Barn Theatre in Cirencester invited Simon Reade to mount a new production, which opened this week with a cast of Susan Tracy, Mensah Bediako and John Sackville. The Barn celebrates its fifth birthday next February, after balancing its early years with artistic success and the problems thrown up by the pandemic and its attendant closures.

The 2022-2023 opens with another triumph as Uhry’s story of an aging Jewish widow and her black chauffeur gets a fresh lease of life from exceptional performances and a production that is movingly backed by the music of the period, from Klezmer to Elvis Presley. As the proud Daisy Werthan fights her son Boolie for her independence, she becomes more reliant on Hoke Coleburn, until, in her late 90s, she sees him as her beloved best friend.

Simply set, nothing on stage but a table, a settee and a couple of crates, this powerful reading relies on precise nuance of movement, voice and emotion. Susan Tracy and Mensah Bediako age before our eyes in this play of short scenes set against the momentous events of the time – the bombing of the Atlanta synagogue, Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, the effect the civil rights movement has on the business community of the state, and more. Their beautifully observed performances draw the audience deep into a recent history that has come to the fore again since the death of George Floyd and the rise of the ultra-right.

It’s rich in humour, full of humanity and tenderness. John Sackville transforms Boolie into a thoughtful man whose home and work life evolve with the passing years, rather than the   kindly buffoon as which he is usually depicted.

Please don’t let anyone criticise this choice as racist or anti-Semitic. Uhry’s play is a classic, and the points he makes, gently but forcefully, are as relevant now as they were in the 1980s.

This production of Driving Miss Daisy continues until 17th September. Visit the comfortable, 200 seat, air-conditioned converted barn to see it if you can.

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