Powerful tale of relationships

Daytona

Malvern Theatres

****

Powerfully emotionally and multi-dimensionally, Daytona is a play with so much heart that you can almost feel it beat.

Bringing together the distinguished writing abilities of Oliver Cotton (A Touch of Frost and Man Falling Down) and a steller cast of Maureen Lipman, Harry Shearer and John Bowe, this is a gift of a new play.

Essentially, this is a family drama set in a Brooklyn apartment in 1986 with Jewish husband and wife, Joe and Elli, rudely interrupted by Joe's estranged  and exuberant brother Billy, who disappeared some 30 years ago but makes a surprising comeback with plenty of revelations from both  the past and the present (which I don't want to spoil for those of you yet to see it).

Content with their lot and ballroom dancing competitions, we open with the normality of retired couple Elli and Joe, played wonderfully staid by Harry Shearer, who famously does the voice for Smithers and Ned Flanders in The Simpsons.

Joe and Elli, Harry Shearer and Maureen Lipman

It is only when Elli has left for the day that Billy makes his sudden entrance filled with mystery and obvious questions that have the audience's antennas twitching.

Why is he dressed in such a bizarre way with a Hawaiian shirt, shabby suit and no socks? How does this unannounced visit tie in with his recent holiday to Daytona Beach in Florida? Why did he run away three decades ago and change his identity to an all American real-estate dealer in Ohio?

So many questions, yet Cotton toys with us, drip-feeding his story bit by bit with what seem like superfluous detail until finally we reach the moments of truth (yes, there are more than one).

While on one level, there is Billy's current predicament, on another, there are the emotional betrayals and relationships of this trio, who grew up together and were then interned in concentration camps during the Second World War.

Joe's bitterness is not so much why Billy left but the fact that he denounced his Jewish past and even removed the tattoo of his camp prisoner number. While Elli is haunted by her own secrets.

Lipman, playing Elli, has to be one of the best actresses of her generation, and despite only being present for a very short time in the first act, her presence cannot be denied in the second act, when she commands the stage.

It is a master stroke casting John Bowe (The Hour, Cranford and Poldark) as Billy as he is totally believable as a character who responds instantly to his heart whatever the consequences, which is crucial to this storyline.

This is as much an examination of relationships and love as it is about atonement. It's a must-see. To 12-10-13

Alison Brinkworth 

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