Peter Nichols' classic groundbreaking black comedy was first performed in Glasgow in 1967. The comic situations which arose from the most serious of subjects meant that many thought it was in bad taste. Critics loved the play though and it later transferred to Broadway making the Bristol born playwright a household name.
Opening during a school detention, this production makes the audience feel uncomfortable with immediate effect as teacher Bri Jason Thorpe addresses them as naughty pupils. This free style approach continues throughout the play and allows the actors to improvise at will.
We learn that Bri jokes his way through life because he is a disappointed, sad young man. His daughter Joe is severely disabled. Mum, Sheila Judy Flynn has hope that her little girl will improve.
Following a visit from friends Freddie and Pam, we see the couple struggle with their daughter’s inability to carry out every day tasks. The friends do not know where to look when Joe is in the room.
Nichols’ script contains a barrage of jokes and the performances are all excellent as each actor is expected multi task, improvising as they go. Thorpe is a real find as he makes the audience laugh and cry; constantly ad-libbing and keeping other actors on their toes. So much so that Flynn is often better when he is off stage, as he puts her off her stride several times. When delivering lines to the audience she is wonderful though. Race Davies' Pam steals several scenes via her disdain and use of the term N.P.A. – “Non physically attractive.”
Lucy Smith (who shares the role of Joe with Beth Critchley on alternate nights) is heart breaking as she is often in the background sat in her chair whilst other characters argue her fate. She does a grand job.
The great thing about this play is that it is never mawkish. The subject may have been tackled before but the scattershot approach is still original after all these years. In short, Joe Egg is an uneven but cracking night out.
- Glenn Meads