Getting invited to a West End premiere is a rare treat and on this occasion made all the more special by a certain Hugh Jackman sat just a few rows behind.
My endorsement is never going to carry the weight of such a Hollywood A-lister and fan of the stage* but I never got the chance to ask him what he thought of Daytona as he was whisked off to a VIP area straight afterwards (What's On Stage's photos here).
The play, written by Oliver Cotton, started life at the Park Theatre before touring and has now found its way into the West End at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. It tells the story of retired couple Elli (Maureen Lipman) and Joe (Harry Shearer) who keep active by entering ballroom dancing competitions and socialising with friends. They bicker but obviously care about each other, enjoying a simple and cosy life.
Cotton chooses to cover the early and intervening years of history for these three characters by giving them quite long speeches in which they recall certain events. It is at times evocative and captivating and beautifully performed but equally it leaves the other actors with little to do and occasionally I just hankered for more interaction.
The second half flows much more freely after what is, in hindsight, a very long set up in the first half.
Lipman is, as Elli, a bright spark on the stage and missed when she isn't there. She is a no nonsense woman not shy with her observations and quick retorts and yet has a warm and hospitable demeanour. She is a mother hen fussing over her husband while always managing to get her way.
Brothers Joe and Billy's differing personalities are shaped by their coping mechanisms as the slow unveiling of their pasts reveals. Ultimately Daytona is a play about denial and an attempt to right a wrong that is wholly misguided. It demonstrates that passions and hurts run deep and despite the best of efforts are not easily dismissed or forgotten. There is an element of tragedy in how such hurts corode and result in lives half lived.
Daytona doesn't quite fire on all cylinders all the time but when it does it roars with emotive human nature. It runs at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 23 August and is 2 hours and 15 minutes including an interval.
*Hugh Jackman isn't just a film star, oh no, he's appeared in musicals and plays including a stint at our own National Theatre in Oklahoma!. He is due to appear in the Broadway transfer of Jez Butterworth's The River this year with Cush Jumbo, who was also at the premiere.
Oliver Cotton was in The Philadelphia Story at the Old Vic which was directed by Kevin Spacey who saw Mr W perform as a RADA student and then later interviewed him for the Guardian about playing Hamlet.