Review: Driving Miss Daisy (Theatre Royal, Brighton, until Saturday, November 17)

Memories of the award-winning film are bound to be in the mind for audiences – but the touring production of Driving Miss Daisy has a delightful charm of its own that soon dispels any preconceptions.

Alfred Uhry’s semi-autobiographical 1987 play is about the growing bond and friendship between a wealthy Conservative Jewish Atlanta widow and her illiterate black chauffeur and gently relates how people can develop respect and affection for each other despite unlikely beginnings.

The story unfolds across 25 years from 1948 to 1972 with a backdrop of several milestones in American social history, not least the growth of the civil rights movement, and the relationship between the two enormously likeable central characters often mirrors what is happening on the wider stage.

The set is simple – just a few items of furniture, back projection, and a bench, chairs and steering wheel representing the cars – and the direction by David Esbjornson is perfectly and sensitively judged, allowing 90 unbroken minutes to pass without dragging or boring.

But it is the performances of the three actors that lifts this production still further, with each actor capturing every moment of the drama with great power and poignancy.

As Daisy Gwen Taylor beautifully conveys the hard exterior, but warm heart, of the retired schoolteacher having to face her own prejudices, fiercely independent and often exasperating, but always with a twinkle – an actress who is yet again a sheer joy to watch.

Don Warrington loses his wonderful rich cultured tones to play driver Hoke, uneducated but not stupid, always deferential yet with an inner strength that allows him never once to jettison his dignity. The unlikely friendship between the two characters is explored wonderfully and the result is sometimes tear-jerking, sometimes extremely funny.

Ian Porter plays Daisy’s long-suffering son Boolie, never just as a necessary linking role, but with a passion of his own, often highlighting some of the broader undercurrents in this heartwarming play.

The play may ultimately be fairly undemanding, but it is never lightweight, and this production allows the themes of friendship, old age, and overcoming prejudice to win us over and warm the soul.

David Guest