17th December 2001 - What's on Stage Review
Day in the Death of Joe Egg
Where:West End (thanks Peggy)
A very brief programme biography states: "From 1986 to September 2001 Eddie Izzard was playing Tebonius in the Shakespeare's Julius Caesar at the Southend Playhouse." While that is a (surprisingly feeble, perhaps deliberately grammatically incorrect) joke, Izzard's latest theatrical role is, however, far from one. It's not stunt casting, either, to have him replace Clive Owen in the transfer of Peter Nichols' A Day in the Death of Joe Egg from the New Ambassadors to the Comedy.
In fact, the part of Bri - father to a severely handicapped daughter - could have been written for him, so naturally does he assume it. It helps that the character, with several direct address commentaries delivered straight to the audience, is indeed part stand-up comic, painfully mitigating the sit-down tragedy of the situation by making us laugh at it. (Izzard's last West End appearance, in the title role of Lenny, was also a stand-up one, in more senses than the fact that it was about the comic Lenny Bruce. On some nights, following a moment of naked intimacy with his co-star Elizabeth Berkley, he was seen to rise to the occasion).
But Izzard, too, is also a warmly sympathetic and vulnerable actor, to whom an audience is instinctively drawn. And he has a spontaneously affectionate rapport with the still wonderful Victoria Hamilton as his wife Sheila.
In fact, Laurence Boswell's fine revival has deepened and matured in many ways since it was first seen, not least (for my money) in Prunella Scales' performance as Bri's mother, Grace. Whereas the first time I saw her I was distracted by what I thought were sitcom tendencies, her performance has become considerably less broad and more truthfully comic.
A wonderful production has been made even better.
- Mark Shenton