Review: A Day in the Death of Joe Egg by Peter Nichols, Sir John Mills until April 11
- Credit: Archant
This is the play a lot of people wanted banned. The Lord Chancellor especially, who still had the role of national censor when Joe Egg opened in 1967, had severe reservations about it. But good sense prevailed and a classic of the British theatre was launched.
It wasn’t just that for the first time a severely handicapped child was being portrayed on stage that had people on edge, but because she was being used as part of a dark comedy. Oh, yes, the laughs are there, but they underscore a plot of such dramatic humanity, that the play couldn’t exist without them.
Gallery Players have put together a cracking cast to tell a tough tale that has you gripped tight all through, based as it is partially on autobiographical truth - author Peter Nichols and his wife experienced much of this with their own child.
We have been used since Shakespeare’s day to the odd character talking directly to the audience. In Joe Egg, the whole cast share confidences with us a lot of the time. Brian, father of the little girl in the wheelchair, is a teacher and he bursts into our lives as the curtain goes up, giving us hell as his misbehaving comprehensive class and, so masterly is he, that in a moment we are sitting silently with our hands on our heads and being kept in after school.
He and his wife, Sheila, have not had a break from looking after their daughter Joe for eleven years and it is beginning to show. They both clearly love her and each other dearly but Brian’s life is starting to fracture. He’s a bit of a mummy’s boy but a realist and knows nothing is going to change. There’s no escape.
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Sheila is organized and has tried everything from medical specialists to prayer to bring her daughter into some sort of life and we know she will never give up. She is looking, she tells us, for a bit of magic. Jo Lewis is wonderfully moving as Sheila and we can’t help hoping that she’ll get her miracle.
Jo Raishbrook’s Brian is equally good, jokily manic in everything he says and does and we can see the strain breaking through, particularly when his mother (Helen Leeder) and old friends Freddie and Pam (Liam Gregory and Emilia Petryszyn) drop in. The humour is there but you can clearly see the flaws in each character in this cleverly scripted piece of writing.
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Beatrice Carpenter, 13 years old, has the trickiest job as the girl in the wheelchair with, obviously, not too much to do but she does it brilliantly as part of a really top team in a play that takes us all by the throat at the end.