Theatre Review - Daytona

The Park Theatre scores another palpable hit with Oliver Cotton’s touching portrayal of three elderly characters thrown together by an act of revenge and haunted by love denied and familial betrayal.

It’s the winter of 1986, Brooklyn, New York. A married couple in their early seventies, Joe (Harry Shearer) and Elli Zimmerman (Maureen Lipman), share a passion for ballroom dancing and are busy rehearsing and preparing for their next competition. While Elli is out, picking up her ball gown from her sister, Joe receives a surprise visit from Billy (John Bowe), his younger brother who he hasn’t seen for thirty years.

Billy is dressed for summer and claims to have fled the scene of a violent act of revenge at Daytona Beach in Florida where he was holidaying with his wife. Over the course of a whisky-fuelled night, Joe discovers that his brother had taken on a new name and identity - making his money in real estate - and denying his Jewish roots. Billy hasn’t forgotten, however, the time they spent in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany.

We learn that after the war the brothers had gone into business together until Billy inexplicably took off, sometime in the mid-fifties, leaving Joe with a raft of debts. But Billy is not interested in raking over the past. He has an urgent need to reveal what happened at Daytona Beach, knowing that it is to profoundly affect them all. When he asks for his brother’s help, Joe and Elli realise that their lives will never be the same again.

Cotton is primarily known as an actor and this is demonstrated in the play’s pacing and some cracking monologues. Lipman is largely absent from the first half, where Billy reveals the reasons behind his sudden reappearance, but takes second stage in the second half where we discover why Billy left in the first place.

After a slow start, Cotton proves himself to be a master of suspense and a fine storyteller. He’s well served by terrific performances and David Grindley’s pitch-perfect direction. Don’t let the summer heat put you off – the theatre is fully air-conditioned.

Running at Park200  until 18 August