Maureen Lipman Devastates In Daytona

Harry Shearer (Joe), Maureen Lipman (Elli) by Manuel Harlan

Harry Shearer (Joe), Maureen Lipman (Elli) by Manuel Harlan

Daytona, staging its world premiere at Park Theatre, is set (incongruously at the moment) in a cold Brooklyn winter. Jewish couple Joe (Harry Shearer) and Elli (Maureen Lipman) are preparing for the seniors’ ballroom dancing competition, distracted only by the mundane and happy details of their domestic life.

If at first you think Daytona seems almost uninteresting, this is part of its trick. A series of awful stories and secrets unravel with the return of long lost brother, Billy (John Bowe) and we quickly learn there’s more to this trio’s history than meets the eye. Billy’s shock meeting in Floridian seaside resort Daytona with Franz Gruber, their persecutor in a concentration camp, is the basis of the first revelation. They have to deal with the consequence, not as downtrodden prisoners, but as settled people with new lives and concerns. Results are moving, almost absurd – Joe trying to keep his much valued ‘control’ (the reason he likes dancing) but descending into throwing sandwiches about in frustration – as they try and decide what to do next.

Parallel is Elli’s personal revelation, the secret of her love affair and betrayal, which still has the power to make her body double up in agony, 30 years on. Maureen Lipman is heartbreaking to watch, and we see her younger, selfish and thrill-seeking self melt away her 71 years as she relives the buried regrets and wrongs of her past.

Ben Stones’s compact set makes the most of off stage, with characters stomping in the cold in the porch, or clanking about in the kitchen. All the ingredients of a brilliant drama are in here with some first rate acting of veteran performers, exposing the baggage that comes with being a veteran of life.

Daytona is at Park Theatre, Finsbury Park, until 18 August. Tickets: £22.50 (concessions £12-£18)Londonist saw Daytona on a complimentary press pass.

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