A Day In the Death of Joe Egg is a strange thing. Written in the 1960s by Peter Nichols as a response to his own experiences of dealing with disability, this is a black comedy with bite, but one that makes uncomfortable viewing, though it’s not clear whether it’s the subject matter or the direction that makes it so.
This co-production between Liverpool Everyman and the Rose Theatre is a tough watch, partly because of the needling of the subject matter – disability is still a hard topic to get your head around, especially theatrically – but partly because both the direction and the dated nature of the piece mean it's almost impossible to relax into things.
As put-upon dad Bri, Ralf Little does a decent job with the comic scenes, but the repetition and the funny voices soon begin to wear, and it’s not a surprise to discover that Little, like Matt Lucas in Prick Up Your Ears, actually excels at the dramatic moments, bringing real poignancy to Bri's moments of indecision and inferiority complex as he plays second fiddle to disabled daughter Jo and mum Grace. Alas, these moments are too far and few between, and when they do appear, they’re often punctured with another wodge of clunky comedy.
As ‘spastic’ Joe, Jessica Bastick-Vines does a wonderful job – this talented actress has clearly worked exceedingly hard at making sure her portrayal is accurate, and it must take a real toll emotionally. Rebecca Johnson’s sympathetic mother Sheila provides a nice grounding force throughout the play, giving unwavering love to a child who cannot express her feelings in return.
Nichols' script all too often veers into caricature and endless exposition, and it’s hard to feel sympathy for anyone. For instance, repellent family ‘friends’ Freddie and Pamela (Owen Oakeshott and Sally Tatum) would fit perfectly into Abigail’s Party, but seem thoroughly out of place here, seemingly directed to play it as broad as possible.
It sounds odd to say of such a vintage play that there is promise contained within, but there is. But since this was written in 1967, it's a little too late to explore what could have been. A peculiar evening out...