Friday, September 20, 2013

'Daytona' by Oliver Cotton

20 September 2013

Last Saturday we were at Watford Palace Theatre to see 'Daytona' – a new play by Oliver Cotton. 'Daytona' is set in a Brooklyn apartment in the early 1990s – a New York Jewish family environment familiar from the work of Neil Simon and Woody Allen. It is a play about growing old, memory, forgiveness and atonement. The cast consists of three characters – all in their seventies. When Joe's brother Billy reappears out of the blue after an absence of more than 30 years it is an uncomfortable reminder to Joe and his wife Elli of difficult times in their past. 'Daytona' has an almost Chekhovian feel – the dramatic action all happens off stage and is recounted by the characters. Joe thinks he has recognised, by a poolside in Florida, a man who was a Nazi officer in the wartime concentration camp that Joe, Billy and Elli survived. As we begin to wonder whether or not Joe might be mistaken in his assumptions it feels like Cotton is creating a version of Ariel Dorfman's 'Death and the Maiden' in which the ambiguity of identity might never be resolved. Then I began to question whether the dramatic off-stage events had actually happened: we only have the word of one obviously unreliable narrator to go on. But as the play unfolded I realised that Cotton's focus was actually on questioning assumptions of motivation. The characters challenge each other about why they really took the actions they did – today and 30 years ago – and the cleverness of the play is how it shows the dawning realisation as each individual becomes aware of the extent to which they have been fooling themselves. 'Daytona' is a complex and subtle play and was excellently acted by Harry Shearer, Maureen Lipman and, particularly John Bowe as Billy.

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