Day in the Death of Joe Egg
|Eddie Izzard in A Day
in the Death of Joe Egg at the Comedy.
Picture: Tristram Kenton
Back in the dark days before decimal currency, Peter Nichols' first success as a playwright drew on his own experiences as father of a mentally handicapped child, here the ten-year-old Joe Egg of the title. It is a harrowing comedy in which the husband at breaking point and the wife who clings to a straw of hope start using jokes as a strategy for survival - until a well-meaning friend warns them that their jokes are starting to use them.
Laurence Boswell's acclaimed revival opened in October at the New Ambassador's but has now transferred to the Comedy with Eddie Izzard replacing the cool Clive Owen as Bri, Joe's father.
The cast change is crucial. Nichols wrote the role for a comedian and Izzard brings the production a valuable triple whammy. A galvanized audience of devoted young fans who quickly plug into Nichols' black humour, marvellous comic set pieces plus ad-libbing opportunities for Victoria Hamilton as Bri's wife Sheila - adding both poignancy and sexual chemistry to her deeply felt performance.
Izzard's laid-back style is not yet tuned in to Nichols' irony. But his brilliant opening gambit as the teacher giving us all hands on head detention is marvellously matched with satiric take-offs as a bumbling, overworked GP, a German paediatrician and a well-meaning vicar.
As Bri's manipulative mum, Prunella Scales gives sharp focus to this compulsive Bristolian knitter, while character cameos by John Warnaby and Robin Weaver bring a disturbing political dimension to a theatre classic that is no mere period piece.
By John Thaxter