A Day in the Death of Joe Egg / our review

DARK intimate Loveable

Oct 11th, 2019

Wendy Fynn

Wendy Fynn

Peter Nichols' Joe Egg teaches us how to laugh - and live

It's an actor's worst nightmare - something (or someone) in the audience breaks the flow right in the middle of a scene causing the entire performance to grind to a halt. Maybe someone gets taken ill or its the always-unwelcome ringing of a cellphone. Unfortunately for the performance, I was attending, it was both.

A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg primes audiences to expect the unusual right from the play's name. Then there's the subject matter - relationship drama meets raising a severely handicapped child - which is not something you see every day on stage. And, finally, this hot pile of things-we-don't-normally-talk-about-let-alone-see-acted-out is packaged up with the most unselfconscious tools in the theatre box. It's a black comedy, vaudeville, farce of raising a disabled child when your marriage is falling apart.

Luckily for this production, these metatheatre devices played heavily in its favour when the performance I saw was halted, firstly due to a young lady fainting and then, as she was being ushered out, a cellphone ringing right in the front row. Toby Stephens handled it perfectly, throwing his hands up in exasperation and asking, "Are you all about finished now?" before quickly negotiating where to pick-up from with Claire Skinner.

A break in continuity like this would normally ruin a West End show, however, for Joe Egg it only made the characters more real and helped bridge the gap that usually exists between actor and audience. The play already uses asides spoken directly to the audience and several 'play within a play' skits to tell the story of middle-aged couple Bri and Sheila struggling to care for their daughter Josephine and keep their marriage afloat. Stephens and Skinner are perfectly cast as Bri and Sheila, a couple thrown together by fate who are doing their best to make the most of things.

Making the most of things includes cruel jokes at their 'vegetative' daughters expense and fantasies far more exciting than the life they've been forced to live. Given that Josephine is played by disabled actor Storme Toolis, it can make some scenes hard to watch. In fact I suspect there were a few occasions when the humour was so dark, the audience didn't realise that we were meant to (or is it allowed to?) have laughed. Perhaps we did want to but, unlike Bri who survives on an almost manic sense of humour, we just couldn't bring ourselves to.

It's not an easy play to watch but, strangely, it is very loveable. This is probably thanks to the beautifully nostalgic set design and of course the brilliant cast. It's not an easy play to review either, as some moments are hilarious, some incredibly uncomfortable, and then some just desperately sad. But that, I suppose, is the beauty of a show like this. It's a snapshot into the lived experience of others, a snapshot of life.

View our show pages for more information about A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Trafalgar Studios 1.

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Trafalgar Studios 1, London

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg

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Trafalgar Studios 1: Open Run

Toby Stephens and Claire Skinner return to the West End this autumn to star in this brand new revival of Peter Nichol's 1967 black comedy. As married couple Bri and Shelia, Stephens and Skinner navigate...more info

Book TicketsBook tickets for A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Trafalgar Studios 1, London


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