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A Day in the Death of Joe Egg

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NEW AMBASSADORS THEATRE

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      26.09.2001 14:41
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      I went to see the West End production of “A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg” at the Richmond Theatre on Friday 21st September prior to its launch in the West End, to be at the Ambassador’s Theatre, I think. The play is not a recent work, having been written by Peter Nichols and first staged in the 1960’s, but the way in which it tackles its subject matter is very modern with disregard for conventional taboos. Basically, it portrays two parents struggling to cope with the fact that their daughter is severely handicapped, having been “damaged at birth” and consigned to a wheelchair, to use the 60’s dialogue. It stars Clive Owen (The Croupier) and Victoria Hamilton (The Savages) as Bri and Sheila. To cope with their situation, they resort to a fantasy world where their little girl has a whole range of personae, literally putting words into her mouth – “what’s that you say, Jo?” Bri is unhappy with his career as a teacher (did I say this was the 60’s?). Sheila breaks out of her daily grind of tending to Jo, by going to drama classes, which leads Bri into dark jealous thoughts. It may seem strange to bill such a play as a comedy, but the dialogue between the lead actors is very funny, and particularly when Owen hams it up as an Austrian doctor, explaining the precise nature of Jo’s disability. This leads to a certain amount of “improv” leaving one or the other of them slightly nonplussed and struggling to regain composure – “that’s a new one – you haven’t put that bit in before” says Sheila, reddening as she speaks. I found the play strangely moving and uplifting. On some occasions, the actors appear to be talking directly to you personally, and I found myself nodding agreement with them whilst on others, you feel as if you are intruding on a private and intimate conversation. The play actually
      starts with Owen shouting at the audience as if they are his recalcitrant class at secondary school, threatening to keep them in – you know the kind of thing – “You boy, you think this is funny, do you? Right, hands on heads. I’VE got all night, so I don’t care how long this takes!” Prunella Scales makes a welcome entry as Bri’s mother, a believer in the “no smoke without fire” adage. It was always suggested that Sheila’s pre-marital promiscuity (this was the 60’s remember) had something to do with Jo’s condition, and ma-in-law is not trying too hard to dispel that one! At one stage, during a family argument in which the language goes beyond what she’ll stand, she turns to the audience, and says “I can’t abide a play with ‘Language’” This is another example of the involvement of the audience that I found so engaging. If you think that you’d like a play, which makes a comedy of, shall we say, rather odd subject matter, then do try to get along to see it.

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