Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
IN 1967, an unknown playwright called Peter Nichols sent a script on spec to the Citizens theatre. Remarkable not only for its subject matter but also for its tone, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg was a comedy about a couple caring for a physically disabled 10-year-old girl. After its premiere in Glasgow, it went on to be a West End hit, gallows humour and all.
The play still feels unsettlingly frank in its depiction of carers under stress. Bri and Sheila, the parents, use the driest of black humour as a coping mechanism. That they are the ones doing the work allows them to give voice to dark desires that, even in today's world of taboo-busting comedians, still seem a daring inclusion in the play.
It's an unusually structured work that builds from a two-hander with the feel of an improv workshop to a six-person sitcom that anticipates the social awkwardness of Abigail's Party. In Phillip Breen's production, the first half lacks comic spark. With regulation schoolteacher corduroy and chalk dust on his elbows, Miles Jupp works hard as Bri, but is more a genial man with a dry sense of humour than a parent driven to the vicious comedy of desperation.
Sarah Tansey provides an effective foil as his self-denigrating wife, but the balance between shock and laughter seems uncertain until after the interval, when the production comes into its own and the clash of public sentiment and private trauma is at its most pronounced. With Miriam Margolyes doing a cameo as Bri's overbearing mother, it gets funnier as it gets bleaker, making the central dilemma seem more intractable still.
© Mark Fisher, 2011 (pic: Pete Le May)
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