Elli (Maureen Lipman) and Joe (Harry Shearer) are a seemingly ordinary married Jewish couple in their seventies. We meet them ballroom dancing around their apartment. Elli quickly wraps herself in a fur coat and hat and hurries off out of the action to get her dress fitted ready for their entry in a ballroom dance competition, leaving Joe alone to finish his accounting. The buzzer rings and with a gust of the New York wintery air, in puffs and blows Joe’s long lost brother Billy (played superbly by John Bowe). We are as intrigued as Joe is, to his sudden and unexpected reappearance. Joe quietly listens and questions Billy’s arrival and so do we.
The first act of Oliver Cotton’s new play is a slow but intense unravelling of the past and the gradual telling of the shocking occurrence at Daytona Beach. The second act, where Lipman is quite magnificent, undresses and redresses the heartbreaking secret shared between Billy and Elli.
Daytona is an actors dream, rich with monologues, where the reactions are as delightful as the words spoken, it’s reminiscent of Neil Simon and Arthur Miller. The lovely use of off stage space entices us into their world, adds pace and allows the characters to physicalise the drama, watch out for a flying spring roll. Shearer’s soft restraint compliments Bowe’s brash Billy, like a waltz the highs and lows swing as the characters battle with their own truths. It’s gripping yet not a thriller, thought provoking yet not heavy. A subtle Jewish humour spreads ripples amongst it and yet, as Lipman explained to me “It’s not like I’m running around schlepping chicken soup.”
Cotton perhaps sacrifices the exploration of its darkest theme by placing the spotlight instead on the characters and their intertwined relationships. Daytona tackles identity, love, deception, truth and whether or not it’s right to seek revenge. Its success is not in the story itself but in the way it is told. Quick-step to the Park Theatre and see it before it transfers.