Steady Eddie! Izzard gets all serious…

After appearances in Velvet Goldmine and The Avengers, cross-dressing comedian Eddie Izzard continues on his quest to be taken seriously as an actor and he'll have convinced a lot of people with this astonishing performance in Peter Nichols's controversial play.

Izzard plays Bri, a disillusioned teacher, married to the ever-cheerful Sheila, brought to life by a very impressive Victoria Hamilton. Despite his frustration at the unruly kids he has to teach, life seems otherwise rosy for the couple – until we are introduced to their 10-year-old daughter, Joe. For Joe is a quadraplegic, incapable of movement or speech.

What follows is a no-holds-barred examination of the strain that caring for such a seriously disabled child brings – Sheila is wracked with guilt, fearing that the promiscuity of her youth has resulted in Joe's condition, while Bri desperately avoids reality by playing the buffoon, increasingly resorting to more and more outlandish comic scenarios to avoid facing up to his plight.

It's these comic moments that make the audience breathe a little easier and Izzard is helped with this task by Prunella Scales, who plays his meddling mother and a slightly more monstrous version of her Tesco character, and Freddie and Pam, their grotesque and patronising 'friends'.

It's to Izzard's credit that he pulls off such a stunning performance after the rave reviews his predecessor, Chancer smoothie and potential James Bond, Clive Owen, earned. This is an instance where the phrase 'do give up the day job' is most definitely warranted.

A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg is a gruelling play to watch in parts and you can see the effect it has on its cast – Hamilton had genuine tears streaming down her face at she took a bow. For the audience it's equally emotionally draining, despite the comic interludes, which paradoxically add to the general unease – it seems rather disturbing to laugh so much at a play with such a serious issue at its core. But in spite of its difficult content, spectacular performances all round and some sharp lines make this a play that's both moving and entertaining – absolutely essential viewing.

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