AMERICAN actors Maurey Richards and Cory English will star alongside Paula Wilcox in York Theatre Royal's summer production of Driving Miss Daisy from Friday.

Directed by Theatre Royal associate artist Suzann McLean, Alfred Uhry's Pulitzer Award-winning comedy drama is set against a backdrop of prejudice, inequality and the American Civil Rights movement in the American Deep South.

When proud Daisy Werthan crashes her car, her son Boolie decides to hire a driver for her: African-American Hoke Colburn. Daisy and Hoke’s relationship suffers a rocky start but, as times change over two decades, a profound friendship blossoms between them.

"The play spans 25 years of the Jewish and African American communities living in Atlanta," says Suzann. "Key moments in history, from the Temple bombing in 1958 to Martin Luther King Jr’s Nobel peace prize dinner in 1964, force us to re-examine where we are as a society today."

Uhry's story was made famous by the 1989 Academy Award-winning film with Morgan Freeman as Hoke and Jessica Tandy as Daisy. "I haven't seen the movie since the Nineties," says Maurey, who has appeared in Carmen Jones at the Old Vic and Porgy And Bess at the Savoy Theatre, London, and sung with The Platters for a decade.

"I was tempted to watch it again after being cast, because I love Morgan Freeman so much and Jessica Tandy is a goddess, but I thought I'd probably absorb Morgan's performance like osmosis."

Instead, Maurey has followed his own instincts, while enjoying the differences between film and theatre. "Film takes you by the hand; theatre doesn't do that," he says. "Theatre asks you to use your imagination and suspend your disbelief.

"I wonder if people remember the film in full detail. What I remember at the time was its entertainment value. Though it didn't gloss over the social and racial implications, the focus was on the friendship of Daisy and Hoke; in the play, there's more focus on the issues.

"They become more prominent in our production, especially under Susan's wonderful direction. In rehearsal, we're really getting into the things that aren't on the page: the intentions and the things going on in the background."

Born in 1950, at the end of the Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation in the South, did Maurey experience racism when growing up? "Not on a regular basis, but I do remember when my family was driving to Memphis from Chicago, where I was brought up. We were somewhere in the South, crossing the Tennessee state line, when we stopped at a gas station," he says.

"I was nine or ten, and I didn't see the sign for segregated toilets...I was a clueless kid. When my grandfather saw where I'd gone in, he didn't even finish filling up the car. He quickly paid up and we screeched off out of there like we were criminals making a getaway.

"Then a couple of times at school in Chicago, a kid would give me grief, though that was teenage angst. But on a a steady basis, no, I can't say I was racially abused."

Co-star Cory began his career on Broadway in musical theatre, starring in Hello Dolly with Carol Channing and Gypsy with Tyne Daly, before moving to Britain to study classical theatre.

He now lives in London, where he played Igor in Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein, and Driving Miss Daisy marks his return to Yorkshire after his stand-out turn as nimble New York producer Max Bialystock, the short, stocky and slippery purveyor of a string of flop musicals, in Brooks' The Producers at Leeds Grand Theatre in June 2015.

Playing Boolie has particular resonance for him. "The film was mostly about the friendship and banter between Hoke and Daisy, but now it's more about ageing as Daisy's dementia is developing, and Boolie's having to take more responsibility for her as she can't drive any more.

"My mother's just starting to show signs of the 'D' word [dementia]; my dad's gone into hospital with pneumonia, so my mother is home alone, so now what are we going to do?" he says.

"So, yes, I'm drawing on that for playing Boolie, and also on my family's past in Atlanta, where they owned slaves and at one time had 45 'minors' on the estate, when they had their farm in the 1850s."

Boolie is "the audience" in Driving Miss Daisy, suggests Cory. "He's bearing witness to what's happening," he says. "Though he's the straight man, he gets a few jabs in because some of the things Daisy says are extreme, telling her 'you can't say that'."

Driving Miss Daisy, York Theatre Royal, June 7 to 29, 7.30pm plus 2pm matinees, June 13, 20 and 27; 2.30pm, June 15, 22 and 29. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

Charles Hutchinson