Each act of Daytona focuses on a dramatic revelation, and both are bursting with potential for discourse. Without revealing too much, the primary concept addressed focuses on what is morally right and whether revenge can ever be justified, whilst the other, perhaps less contentious issue, of whether we can ever truly move on from lost love, fills out the rest of the evening.
With two hefty topics to delve into it’s unfortunate that neither idea is fleshed out fully or expanded enough to make for a satisfying evening. On the one hand, this is what makes Cotton’s text quite refreshing as it doesn’t just turn into a vehicle for his ideas. Ultimately though, it means that the huge potential for a debate about morality and retribution is brushed over. In its place, the focus is on the characters’ individual and collective relationships with each other and, as a result, there’s a lot of talk without substance in Daytona. Drawn out monologues seem to go on forever whilst bringing little to the table. Thankfully, the text has been littered with humour and a few nice moments where director David Grindley finds comedy amidst the domestic chaos manage keep the energy up.
Billy (Oliver Cotton) has shown up, after 30 years of estrangement from his brother, Joe (Harry Shearer), to seek shelter in the Brooklyn apartment Joe shares with wife Elli (Maureen Lipman). Billy’s fled Daytona Beach where he’s just killed a man he recognises from their time in Nazi concentration camps. That’s a limited spoiler as all of this is revealed pretty early on, and leaves minimal room for plot development in the rest of the first act.
A delightful New York skyline designed by Jason Taylor lights up in the background – it’s a subtle indicator of the time of day and rounds off Ben Stones’s 1980s set nicely. It also plays a vital role in filling up what would otherwise be a bare expanse above the stage, yet even with it the one living room setting feels a tiny bit sparse in the grand Haymarket. Coupled with the vapid plot it almost runs the risk of leaving the production stilted and underwhelming.
However, it’s Lipman’s performance that makes this a play worth watching. After just a brief appearance in the first act, she enthrals us in the second with a skilful and understated portrayal of a woman who has supressed her emotions for too long. Shearer’s depiction of Harry’s weariness at his brother’s actions and desire for a calm life complements Lipman well, whilst Cotton himself rounds off the trio with a feisty energy that brings plausibility to Billy’s unorthodox character.
Daytona is playing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 23 August. For more information and tickets see the Theatre Royal Haymarket website. Photo by Johan Persson.