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A Day in the Death of Joe Egg

Peter Nichols’ hysterical black comedy shines a very bright spotlight onto the lives of an ordinary couple as they struggle to cope with their severely disabled ten year old daughter...

Published on April 13th 2006.

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg

By Peter NicholsDirected by Roger Haines

Peter Nichols’ hysterical black comedy, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, shines a very bright spotlight onto the lives of an ordinary couple, Bri and Sheila, as they struggle to cope with their severely disabled ten year old daughter Josephine.

Written originally in the 1960s at a time when stringent stage censorship meant that such a taboo subject could not find its way all too easily onto the stage, Nichols’ thoughtful portrayal of this difficult and all too sensitive subject translates extremely well to the modern stage, although this production chose to keep the play very firmly rooted in its 1960s origins through Judith Croft’s imaginative set and costume.

The play witnesses Bri and Sheila at home with their daughter Joe who suffers from serious cerebral palsy, as they cope in their own way with their situation – Bri thinly veils his despair with humour – a veil that on some uncomfortable occasions seems all too thin and likely to slip away at any moment, while Sheila clings desperately onto her hope that Joe will get better.

The play makes extensive use of monologues, with each of the six characters addressing the audience at various points throughout the play. With Sheila and Bri, this use of monologue and asides has the effect of them trying to justify their actions and situation to the outside world, whilst also allowing us to see that inside they are crumbling.

Jason Thorpe makes a fantastic Bri, and really comes into his own in the second half as we see Bri begin to fall apart. One does get the sense however (especially in the first act), that there’s a little too much of his predecessor Eddie Izzard in this role, a role which does allow for adaptation and improvisation, and not enough of Jason Thorpe, who I am sure could have easily injected his own charisma into the comic retellings of past encounters with doctors and vicars.

Judy Flynn makes a believable Sheila, while Christopher Brand and Tina Gray steal the stage in the second act in the roles of Sheila and Bri’s friends, Freddie and Pam. Both hilarious characters in their own right, Freddie and Pam embody two different and common attitudes to disability in society – the useless but well intended Freddie patronises and inflates his own ego through what he sees as his condescending acts of kindness, while the character of Pam is bravely and honestly put to use in representing the discomfort (and even disgust) that many people feel when confronted with the reality of cerebral palsy.

This play, discomfortingly honest in its exploration of society’s non acceptance of disability and the ways in which it attempts to feign acceptance, gets right to the core of the issue, tackling everything from feelings of guilt on the part of the disabled child’s parents, to other people’s misunderstandings and even, (and I find myself scrambling for euphemisms even as I write) - the fact that that the parents at times wish the child dead as a means of escape.

An entertaining, sad, and emotionally challenging production, that really does justice to Peter Nichol’s incredible script.

Jayne Robinson
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Showing at the Library Theatre until 29th April


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