Eddie Izzard in A Day in the Life of Joe EggIf proof were needed, this perfectly pitched production from Laurence Boswell confirms that Peter Nichols’ searing black comedy is in no danger of becoming dated. Its central theme, the humbling consequences of caring for a severely handicapped child, and the questions it raises about the quality of life itself, are just as problematic and poignant today as when the play premiered in 1967.

The cast serve Nichols’ difficult, delicate script well. Victoria Hamilton is equally at home with Nichols’ humour and his imploding pathos as Joe’s martyred mother Sheila. Robin Weaver as Pam, a pinched little woman who cannot brook deformity of any kind, is also stunningly, painfully convincing. John Warnaby as Freddie, a rich socialist with a questionable cause, leverages every ounce of comedy in his character, and Prunella Scales is perfectly cast as Grace, Bri’s overbearing mother. In addition, Es Devlin’s two toned-set allows both the social realism and the blatant theatricality of Nichols’ script ample room to breathe.

But it is Eddie Izzard’s lead performance as Bri, Nichols’ damaged alter ego, that surely seals the play’s fate. By the interval Izzard has firmly stamped his image on the role. He inhabits Bri’s bizarre fantasies and relentless, vicious humour with inimitable assurance and rumpled charm. But as the drama builds to its inevitable crisis, Izzard becomes increasingly less capable of conveying his character’s emotions, and the play suffers horribly as a result. True, it bleeds the plot clean of any sentimentality, but by the final act, Izzard seems so insanely unconcerned by the events he has set in motion that he looks trapped in the wrong play altogether. It is an unforgivable disappointment, for which Boswell must bear part of the blame, because for the first hour of this unforgettable play, it is difficult to imagine a more profoundly moving, hilarious partnership that the one Izzard and Hamilton strike up on the Comedy Theatre stage.

Lucy Powell.

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