A Day in the Death of Joe Egg

Previewed 5 December 2001, Opened 11 December 2001, Closed 9 February 2002 at the Harold Pinter Theatre

Laurence Boswell's revival of Peter Nichols' play A Day in the Death of Joe Egg in London starring Eddie Izzard, Victoria Hamilton and Prunella Scales

This savage penetrating comedy follows a young couple's struggle to deal with marriage, career and family. As they try to make light of their situation, Bri and Shelia resort to humour and fantasy as a way to get through each day. A balance of deep compassion and rich humour, this poignant production will break your heart even as you laugh.

The cast features Eddie Izzard as 'Bri', Victoria Hamilton as 'Sheila' and Prunella Scales as 'Grace' with John Warnaby as 'Freddie', Robin Weaver as 'Pam' and Sophie Bleasdale/ Elizabeth Holmes-Gwillim as 'Joe Egg'. Directed by Laurence Boswell with designs by Es Devlin, lighting by Adam Silverman and sound by Fergus O'Hare. This production was broadcast on TV BBC4 on Wednesday 13 March 2002. Laurence Boswell's West End credits include David Williamson's Up For Grabs (Wyndham's Theatre 2002).

This production, with Clive Owen as 'Bri', was originally staged at the Ambassadors Theatre in October 2001 - see below.

"Eddie Izzard has taken over from Clive Owen as Bri, the father of poor brain-damaged Joe in A Day in the Death of Joe Egg. On balance, though there is not much in it, I preferred Owen. He has got more of the character's awkwardness. By contrast, Izzard can't help seeming rather cool. He is better, on the other hand, at suggesting the thwarted artist in Bri - and in any case, you soon stop comparing performances and find yourself caught up in the play as a whole, with its perfectly judged blend of comic and tragic, and in the excellence of Laurence Boswell's production. Victoria Hamilton continues to shine as Joe's mother; there is admirable support from John Warnaby, Robin Weaver and Prunella Scales." The Sunday Telegraph

"From the moment Eddie Izzard bounces on to the stage as Bri in A Day in the Death of Joe Egg and tells the audience to shut up, we can see that this was an inspired bit of casting. Izzard replaces Clive Owen in the part, but he is of course known as a stand-up comic who specialises in surreal flights of fancy. He brings to Laurence Boswell's fine production his intuitive comic timing and a wonderful rapport with the audience, which make the vaudevillian streak in Peter Nichols' play work. He is also entirely at home with his character's switches into impersonation as he tells the story of his life. And he convinces as a man whose response to pain has been to joke it away - so much so that he is now trapped by his own defence mechanism.... The supporting cast is excellent. Prunella Scales is a delight as Bri's over-protective mother, and John Warnaby and Robin Weaver are very good as the clumsily well-meaning friend, Freddie, and his ghastly, self-centred wife, whose alternative proposals for Josephine make you see Bri and Sheila in perspective. But the performance of the evening is that of Victoria Hamilton as Sheila. Funny, warm, vulnerable and yet resilient, this is a wonderful and moving performance... This is a fine production of a still-potent play." The Financial Times

"Eddie Izzard is in his element when addressing the audience or role-playing past experiences with an incompetent GP, Viennese paediatrician and trendy vicar. At times he can display childish glee for silly pranks, then slide into an almost hippie-like vagueness as if tuning out his pain... In the less vaudevillian second act... Izzard seems a slightly underpowered presence. Yet he always plays wonderfully with Victoria Hamilton’s Sheila, whose constant anxiety and dogged optimism that her daughter will get better make for a heartbreaking combination... Hamilton provides the emotional anchor for Laurence Boswell’s production. It’s a moving and must-see performance in a play whose blend of unsentimental humour and stress-induced cruelty still has its powerful moments." The Times

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg at the Harold Pinter Theatre previewed from 5 December 2001, opened on 11 December 2001 and closed on 9 February 2002

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg - Clive Owen

Previewed 25 September 2001, Opened 1 October 2001, Closed 24 November 2001 at the Ambassadors Theatre

Laurence Boswell's revival of Peter Nichols' play A Day in the Death of Joe Egg in London starring Clive Owen, Victoria Hamilton and Prunella Scales

The cast features Clive Owen as 'Bri', Victoria Hamilton as 'Sheila' and Prunella Scales as 'Grace' with John Warnaby as 'Freddie', Robin Weaver as 'Pam' and Catalina Blackman / Elizabeth Holmes-Gwillim as 'Joe Egg' from 25 September to 24 November 2001). Directed by Laurence Boswell with designs by Es Devlin, lighting by Adam Silverman and sound by Fergus O'Hare.

"Clive Owen, fresh from his critical triumph in the film, Croupier, stars in this revival of an extraordinary play. A Day in the Death of Joe Egg is a landmark work from the Sixties and the first drama to depict a child with brain damage on stage. It’s a black comedy, a disability version that might have been called No Spastics Please – We’re British. Peter Nichols, its author, based it on his own experience of caring for his severely handicapped daughter, who died at the age of 11. Medically and theatrically, it is an evening of funny turns, all in poor taste and full of taboo disability words like 'cripple' and 'vegetable'. Speaking as the parent of my own Joe Egg, it is a very special play that does terrific service in 'outing' carers as ordinary human beings... Nichols exaggerates this life into a raucous vaudeville format, complete with a ghastly mother-in-law played by Prunella Scales... The despair in Clive Owen’s performance registers way beneath the laughs. Director Laurence Boswell’s production is immeasurably strengthened by Victoria Hamilton, fabulous as Joe’s mum. The unstinting love you feel her pour into the girl lying in her lap, like some broken doll that can’t be repaired, is an exquisite agony to watch. Then in a fantasy sequence the hideously afflicted Joe (Catalina Blackman) is made well and literally skips on to the stage, her parents’ dream come true. A brief stage moment perhaps, but it’s my most profound experience yet of the power of live theatre. Thirty years on this harrowing, hilarious play lives on because it is that rarest of things – a great comedy wrenched out of real life in all its crushing sadness." The Daily Express

"Why has no major London theatre produced Peter Nichols's A Day in the Death of Joe Egg since it hit the West End in 1967? It's funny, it's moving, it's intellectually stirring... The play took a taboo subject — how to cope with a profoundly brain-damaged child? — and it didn't whine, pine, rage, get melodramatic, strike social attitudes or descend into psychobabble. It did that astoundingly radical thing: try to tell the truth. If that still doesn't sound like a recipe for an absorbing, informative, entertaining evening, well, go see Laurence Boswell's production at the New Ambassadors." The Times

"When Peter Nichols' play about a severely handicapped child first exploded back in 1967, the stunned audience did not know whether to laugh or cry. Now, it's not nearly as shocking, but the sight of the limp little girl staring out from a wheelchair still makes people shift uncomfortably in their seats. Clive Owen is brilliant as Bri the schoolteacher dad who copes by making jokes and Victoria Hamilton gives a moving performance as his tortured wife Sheila, continually wondering what their ten-year-old daughter would have been like if she'd been born normal. It takes mute and twisted Joe Egg happily skipping around the stage to lift the underlying gloom." The Daily Mirror

"Joe Egg is by no means a period piece. Nichols's concern - the strategies and effects of coping with such a harrowing, demanding, living tragedy - is timeless. One of the play's most striking stylistic elements is the way in which the various characters speak directly to the audience... For Josephine's mother, Sheila, it's an overwhelming need to confide in somebody, anybody, because she is so desperately lonely, inhabiting a different emotional planet from her husband. Her husband, Brian (Clive Owen), copes (or doesn't cope) by retreating within a carapace of cynicism, treating the whole thing as a sick joke in an attempt to laugh away the pain. He mimics the Viennese doctor who referred to Josephine as a 'wedgetable' and then goes one step further, calling her a 'living parsnip'. He responds to his wife's pathetic excitement that Josephine might have moved her arm intentionally for the first time with a suggestion that they put her down for piano lessons. Childishly attention-seeking, he cannot compete with his daughter for his wife's focus, and the gap between them widens. As Sheila, Victoria Hamilton gives an award-winning, superbly detailed study of the human need for hope where there is only despair... Prunella Scales gives a nice little cameo as the granny who blames her defective grandchild on her daughter-in-law's dodgy genes and premarital promiscuity. Presumably it feels better than blaming her son. This brave, brilliant and harrowing play about mother love in its infinite variety is a classic and must not be missed." The Mail on Sunday

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg at the Ambassadors Theatre previewed from 25 September 2001, opened on 1 October 2001 and closed on 24 November 2001.