Review: Driving Miss Daisy, York Theatre Royal, until June 29. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

DRIVING Miss Daisy is best known for the 1989 film starring Jessica Tandy, Morgan Freeman and Dan Aykroyd, but Alfred Uhry's play came first.

It takes the form of a three-hander, its more concentrated triangular structure bringing greater balance to the relationships that are charted over 25 years in Atlanta in the southern American state of Georgia, against the backdrop of prejudice, inequality and the American Civil Rights movements.

In other words, at a time of rising intolerance, rising support for the Far Right and more overt racism, associate artist Suzann McLean's rep production could not be more timely.

Emma Wee's open plan-design of Daisy Werthan's home, son Boolie's office and plenty of space for the all-important car allows white space at the top of the wallpaper to accommodate McLean's key innovation.

Film and photographic imagery, comprised of newspaper cuttings and headlines, and pictures and film footage of political leaders and campaigners such as Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X, chart the passage of these 25 years from 1948 to 1973, as do snippets of songs, introducing each scene.

This gives a context to the story of Jewish Daisy Werthan (Paula Wilcox), her businessman son Boolie (Cory English) and the African-American chauffeur, Hoke Colburn (Maurey Richards) that Boolie employs for his proud, stubborn mother after she crashes her car at 72.

Miss Daisy and Hoke come from minorities in America, hence the resonance for both of them of the Temple bombing in 1958 and Dr King's Nobel Peace Prize dinner in 1964. Their significance is heightened by McLean's studious desire to recall American society's gradually changing path.

It is not a play in a hurry: one review elsewhere called this production "plodding". Not so, it is at the pace it should be, given the age of Miss Daisy and Hoke.

The play, like their relationship, needs time to blossom. Like a rose, it has a prickly start before it blooms, Wilcox expressing the initial circumspection and aversion of Miss Daisy; Richards's Hoke being deferential yet assured in his post, taken on by Boolie for his experience and skills.

Richards, appearing in a straight theatre role after years in musical theatre and singing groups, is a little difficult to decipher at first until you attune to his deep pillow of a voice, but he has the gentle warmth, kindness and stoicism of Hoke off to a T.

Fellow American Cory English, who was terrific as Max Bialystock in The Producers at Leeds Grand Theatre in his last Yorkshire outing, is superb once more as Boolie, especially in the scene where Boolie explains his business-driven reluctance to express open support for Dr King.

Paula Wilcox last appeared on the Theatre Royal stage as Scouse housewife Shirley Valentine in the year the Driving Miss Daisy film was released. Thirty years on, she shows off her gift for diverse characterisation by capturing the Georgia accent, the pride that leads to the rocky start in her relationship with Hoke, and the gradual warming that brings about her greater understanding of the political climate.

There is seriousness yet humour to all three performances, in keeping with Uhry's tone, and at a time of so much political disquiet and seemingly constant anger in Britain, America and and beyond, Driving Miss Daisy is a welcome, deep-thinking, heart-warming antidote.

Charles Hutchinson