Horley staging of major work by the late Peter Nichols

Joseph Booton
Joseph Booton

Joe Booton directs for the very first time – a production of Peter Nichols’ A Day in the Death of Joe Egg at Horley’s Archway Theatre Club.

Performances run from Sept 24-28 and from Oct 1-5.

Bri, a schoolteacher, and his wife Sheila have a grown son Joe with severe cerebral palsy. Joe is completely helpless and utterly dependent. Bri hides behind irony and sarcasm while Sheila believes the child is penance for her past and soldiers on devotedly with their little Joe Egg.

Well-meaning family and friends offer various solutions – everything from adoption to euthanasia. Ultimately Bri finds he cannot continue and is faced with the ultimate decision…

The venue stages ten productions a year, and Joe, who has acted extensively there, is delighted the venue’s council chose one of his suggestions for his directorial debut. Joe has previously appeared at the Archway Theatre Club in The Hound of the Baskervilles, Acykbourn, The Ladykillers and, a couple of years ago, the two-hander Stones in his Pockets.

“I am trying to make a living as a professional actor. I have done a range of TV commercials.”

But now he is stretching his talents in a different direction, directing for the first time: “I just wanted to try working from a different angle rather than being on the stage. I wanted to give something else a try and have a unique perspective, and this is a great environment in which to do it. There are usually 17 or 18 directors come forward every year wanting to put something on, and each director will put forward three choices. The (venue’s) council will then choose a mixture of directors and plays and contact the directors and tell them which one of their plays they want.”

Initially, they opted for Joe’s choice of Six Characters in Search of an Author, but when it proved difficult to cast, Joe opted for Joe Egg instead: “It’s a great play in that it tackles very interesting and difficult things… not in a light-hearted way, but it uses comedy to bring them out.

“It is about the father and mother of a severely disabled child, but it is written by the author who raised a severely disabled child, and it raises the question whether it is fair and humane to keep alive a child who severely disabled and is only kept alive by medicine or whether it would be better to let them pass away. The writer was the father of a severely disabled child who lived until she was 11. She couldn’t do anything. The only reason she lived until she was 11 was because of modern medicine. The play poses the question whether that is fair…”

The situation is semi-autobiographical, but the playwright insists the characters are not his family.

“In the play, you have got the father who is very much on the side of thinking it would be right to let the child pass away, but you have also got the mother who is holding out hope that she will get better.”

And then you have got two friends. The female friend supports the father; the male friend supports the mother.

“But what is great about the play is that there is a lot of dark humour in it. The father and mother introduce comedy into the situation even though the questions it poses underneath are very serious…”

Nichols died earlier this month.

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