‘A Death in the Life of Joe Egg’

Toby Stephens (‘Oslo’, ‘Lost in Space’) and Claire Skinner (‘Outnumbered’) co-star in this new production of a perennially-revived black comedy.

They play the parents who cope with the demands of looking after a severely disabled daughter by losing themselves in bizarre games. ‘A Day in the Death of Joe Egg’ comes to Trafalgar Studios in a production directed by Simon Evans, who was at the helm of ‘Killer Joe’ which I saw last year.

The playwright Peter Nichols, who was best known for his anarchic, acerbic and semi-autobiographical black comedies, died at the age of 92 just days before this production opened.

When it premiered in 1967, the play was a ground-breaking drama about disability, Nichols drew upon the early years of his marriage and the life of his eldest daughter, Abigail. “She went into hospital at four and stayed there till she died,” Nichols said, describing her life as “a sort of living death”.

Newcomer Storme Toolis, an actor with cerebral palsy, played the role of the daughter Josephine, affectionately known as ‘Joe Egg’.

She is a vegetable (her doctor’s words) in a wheelchair and is unable to communicate. Caring for her has occupied nearly every moment of her parents’ lives since her birth, taking a heavy toll on their marriage. Sheila gives Josephine as much of a life as she can, while Bri (the father) wants the child institutionalised and has begun to entertain chilling fantasies of killing himself and Josephine.

In an interview for Playbill, Toolis said:

the play touches on so many other things, not just disability. It’s about how you put one foot in front of the other every single day, whatever your Joe Egg might be. Everybody has something that makes their life a little bit more difficult and it’s about what you use to help you get through that point.”

An excellent summary.

It was certainly a warning about not having a home birth.

Olivier Award-winner Patricia Hodge (‘Money’, ‘Look Back in Anger’, ‘A Very English Scandal’, ‘Downton Abbey’) plays the role of role of the grandmother, Bri’s mother.

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