By Fiona Leckerman
Elli (Maureen Lipman) and Joe (Harry Shearer) are a seemingly ordinary married Jewish couple in their seventies. We meet them ballroom dancing around their apartment. Elli quickly wraps herself in a fur coat and hat and hurries off out of the action to get her dress fitted ready for their entry in a ballroom dance competition, leaving Joe alone to finish his accounting.
The buzzer rings and with a gust of the New York wintery air, in blows Joe’s long lost brother Billy (played superbly by John Bowe). We are as intrigued as Joe is, to his sudden and unexpected reappearance. Joe quietly listens and questions Billy’s arrival.
The first act of Oliver Cotton’s new play is a slow, but intense unravelling of the past and the gradual telling of a shocking occurrence at Daytona Beach.
The second act, where Lipman is quite magnificent, undresses and redresses the heartbreaking secret shared between Billy and Elli.
Daytona is an actor’s dream, rich with monologues, where the reactions are as delightful as the words spoken. Indeed, the play is reminiscent of works by Neil Simon and Arthur Miller.
The lovely use of off-stage space entices us into their world, adds pace and allows the characters to physicalise the drama – in fact, audiences should watch out for a flying spring roll! Shearer’s soft restraint complements Bowe’s brash Billy and like a waltz, we see the characters swing through the highs and lows as they battle with their own truths. It’s gripping and thought-provoking, yet not heavy.
A subtle Jewish humour ripples through the play and yet, as Lipman explained to me backstage afterwards: “It’s not like I’m running around schlepping chicken soup.”
Daytona tackles identity, love, deception, truth and whether or not it’s right to seek revenge. Its success is not in the story itself, but in the way it is told.
Quick-step over to the Park Theatre and see this before it transfers.
Daytona runs until 18 August at Park Theatre, Finsbury Park. Details: www.parktheatre.co.uk