A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg,
Citizens Theatre, Glasgow,
until November 12
Reviewed by Mark Brown
For those who like their theatre to have past form, this production must seem like an odds-on favourite. Peter Nichols’s acclaimed black comedy about a couple (Sheila and Brian) bringing up a child (Josephine) who suffered profound mental and physical disabilities at birth began its life at the Citz; rejected by a number of theatres in the West End of London (because, one imagines, its candid approach to its subject matter was considered too hot to handle), it received its premiere at the Gorbals playhouse in 1967. Adapted twice for the screen, it has attracted such actors as Janet Suzman, Alan Bates, Eddie Izzard and Prunella Scales.
As this homecoming production attests, the play is still a talent magnet. The universally excellent cast includes the superb Miriam Margolyes (of Harry Potter and Blackadder fame) and comedian and actor Miles Jupp (a performer whose stature seems to grow year on year). Director Phillip Breen has a strong sense of the vaudevillian aspect to the drama, and is assisted brilliantly in this by Max Jones’s set; a retracting living room from which characters step into a bleak music hall.
The enduring appeal of the play isn’t difficult to discern. Whilst – in its comedy of British social manners and politics in the late Sixties – it is very much a work of its time, Nichols has a capacity with comedy and tragedy which resonates (think a collision between Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party and Dennis Potter’s Brimstone And Treacle; although it predates both).
As the marriage between Sheila and Brian (Sarah Tansey’s in control, yet teetering, Sheila contrasting wonderfully with Jupp’s bumbling and clever schoolteacher) disintegrates before our eyes, one wonders how far our society has actually advanced in the last 44 years where caring for profoundly disabled children, and supporting their parents and guardians, is concerned.
This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on October 23, 2011
© Mark Brown