A Day in the Death of Joe Egg-Merlijn Theatre Review
The controversial play A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, written by British Playwright Peter Nichols has once again been revived this time by The Hague’s own international theater group (AATG) under the directions of Marion Carter.
Performed in the intimate venue that is the Theater Merlijn the play coincides with the on-going controversial debate concerning the lives of the severely handicapped throughout the play.
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Scripted to suit the slightly ignorant British audiences of the late 60’s and early 70’s A Day in the Death of Joe Egg would appear to be a little out dated to have the same effect on a modern audience, as unfamiliar language is used with references to “blackies”etc, but it looks to have pleasantly surprised and is still well received by the audiences of today who seem to appreciate the poignant black comic elements of the play.
The audience is led to witness and follow the struggle associated with a British couple (Bri and Sheila) living in a mid-sixties society trying to bring up their profoundly mentally disabled child Josephine (nicknamed Joe Egg)
The storyline of the play touches several sensitive issues regarding society, which was the reason behind its groundbreaking impact back in the play’s premiere in 1967 - A Day in the Death of Joe Egg-Merlijn Theatre Review introduction. This beauty of feeling no need to not interrogate controversial issues that society has been riled with for long periods of time is well represented by this particular theatre group down to their superior acting skills. The production looks in to the impact medical incompetence has on couples such as Bri ( ) and Sheila ( ), and among other things the arguments for and against the support of Euthanasia.
Bri who is a failed teacher at a rough Bristol comprehensive school is a central character of the play, as we are amused by his humorous antics, which Bri uses as a shield to wade through his miserable life. Darren seems very suitable for the role physically, as his lanky body and awkwardness leads us to chuckle at his sometimes “pathetic humour”.
Along with his physical suitability for the main protagonist of this play his body language and facial expressions aids his role in trying to act the “clown” of the play. We see his exceptional talent for facial expression in the scenes where he and wife Sheila act out previous events in their life in reference to their severely handicapped daughter, representing characters such as doctors, surgeons, close friends etc.
Darren’s capability concerning his tone of voice leaves a lot to be desired, as versatility in this area seems very limited and this is highlighted due to the duration of the play in which at nearer the end of the play his tone of voice seems to become rather dull and overall doesn’t agree with my ears. Saying this, English is not Darren’s mothertongue and credit must be given for his different accents especially his Austrian accent in the first half of the play.
Another feature of Darren’s performance that propels the black comedy in the play is his majestic timing of his comic lines that Bri delivers throughout the play. Overall the audience seemed to react to Darrens performance positively, as they laughed at the appropriate times even though at times they did this reluctantly due to the severity of the jet black comedy that Darren puts on show in the play.
Another main protagonist of this play, which in total only involved 6 direct characters, is Bri’s distraught wife Shiela who is played by Claire.
Claire is physically competent of playing a wife trying to keep up appearances of a lower class family and shows a good range of skills in the play, but nothing as spectacular as the performance of Darren, but that is most likely down to the script of Peter Nichols.
Sheila who Clare is playing is more open in showing her emotions compared to Bri, but despite this still often uses black humor to try and distract herself from her gloomy life. Clare’s tone of voice is versatile and this keeps the interest levels in more stagnant scenes alive
These hot topics definitely left me along with other members of the audience in a pensive mood after we A unique aspect of the play contrast to other productions I have witnessed is the relationship built up between audience and characters in an attempt for us to feel more connected emotionally to the turmoil and distress being shown on stage.
The set superbly recreates a typical 60’s looking living room with appropriate furniture and is dressed in an appealing colour scheme that is highlighted through the use of filters and subtle lighting effects. This delicate use of lighting in the play expanded the versatility of the set magnificently along with creating atmosphere and mood appropriately to the play.