ALFRED Uhry’s Driving Miss Daisy celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2017, and what better way to mark its timeless relevance than a new production starring one of our greatest actresses, Sian Phillips.
This Bath Theatre Royal production starts on the home stage, the first of an eight venue UK tour, teaming the octogenarian Dame with Derek Phillips, best remembered as a children’s television star, and also the holder of a best actor award, a composer and a versatile and accomplished stage actor.
If it’s the 1989 film of Driving Miss Daisy you remember, with Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman in the leading roles, you might not realise that the play is a three- hander, with Daisy Werthen’s son Boolie joining the crotchety Southern Jewish widow and the chauffeur hired to drive her cars. It all starts as Miss Daisy, then 72, starts up a new car in reverse, crashes through a wall and onto a garage, destroying both.
Boolie hires Hoke Colburn to drive his mother, but she’s having none of it. After a week-long stand-off, she agrees to him driving her to the Piggly Wiggly. So begins a relationship that develops into a deep and mutually dependent friendship that endures more than two decades.
Based on the true story of the playwright’s grandmother and her driver, it encompasses a time of civil strife in the South. Jewish temples were bombed, racial tensions were exemplified by the Ku Klux Klan and the murder of Martin Luther King.
Recent events in the USA underline the fact that, as Hoke says in the play: “Things are changing, but they’re not changing that much.”
Richard Beecham’s sensitive and robust production on Simon Kenny’s flexible set, captures the balance of this extraordinary relationship, with all Miss Daisy’s irascible charm and Hoke’s gentle, patient wisdom. Teddy Kempner’s Boolie is a loveable bear of a man, easy prey for his dictatorial mother and social climbing wife.
Sian Phillips is a wickedly witty Miss Daisy, aging with subtle assurance before our eyes – another unforgettable performance by this astonishing actress. See it if you can.
Photographs by Nobby Clark