A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg
Rating: 1 out of 3 stars
by Patrick Marmion | Evening Standard | 12. 12. 01 | thanks Betty
Casting Eddie Izzard as the leading man in Peter Nichols's 1967 comedy is a bit of a gamble. The idea is that Izzard's constantly joking character, Bri, uses comedy to cope with the exhausting reality of raising a quadriplegic child. Everyone knows Izzard is one of the funniest men in the business and many will come to this show simply in search of a good, uncomplicated laugh - although that isn't what they'll get. The question for other theatre goers, is whether Izzard delivers the sense of pathos his part demands.
Following Clive Owen in the role, the Izzard effect is curious. He appears, unexpected, before the curtain has risen and sounds like he's doing his stand-up routine. Then you realise he's playing a Bristol teacher trying to control his class. When the curtain finally does rise, we discover him as a loveable hubby, horsing around with his wife, Sheila, before she goes out to rehearse with an amateur-dramatic troupe. It's not till Bri wheels on his vegetative daughter that you start to need more than his jesting.
Acting out the history of his relationship and of his daughter's condition at the front of the stage, with Victoria Hamilton as his stooge wife, Izzard is at his comic best.
His occasional Bristol accent is a little iffy - a bit like he turned off the M4 too soon and wound up in Somerset. He also sounds like James Mason, even when he's sending up a pompous Viennese consultant. Apart from this, he is fabulously charismatic and delightful to watch - without ever quite finding the dread which drives his character.
It helps that Nichols surrounds Bri with even greater buffoons, who make him look less emotionally retarded. Sheila's rich amdram friend, Freddie and his wife Pam are two such cartoon fall-guys. John Warnaby as the well-meaning Freddie is nice but thick, while Robin Weaver as his snobbish wife is clever but priggishly nasty. Finally, the icing on the cake of grotesques is Prunella Scales as Bri's mother - a bitter and twisted Bristolian biddy.
Whatever the other actors' contribution, the main reason Laurence Boswell's production works so well is because Victoria Hamilton sustains its emotional pulse. Not only does she create the space for Izzard and others to ham things up, she also bears the the play's sentimental moral alone.
There's absolutely no laughing at the dogged tenacity of her optimism any more than there is laughing at her selfless devotion to Elizabeth Holmes-Gwillim or Sophie Bleasdale who alternate as her helpless daughter.