★★★ | Daytona, Theatre Royal Haymarket

In a recent interview, Maureen Lipman said that this is ‘unquestionably the best role’ of her career and she’s not wrong. Lipman is jaw-droppingly stunning in the strictly limited season of Daytona at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.

Daytona is an intimate 3-hander show which tells a story of missed opportunities and what-ifs. Without sharing too much, an Elderly Jewish migrant couple Elli (Maureen Lipman) and Joe (Harry Shearer) are living out their twilight years ballroom dancing and going through the motions of a long and seemingly happy marriage. One evening, whilst Elli is getting last-minute alterations to her dancing dress, Joe’s brother, wild-haired and Hawaii shirt wearing, Billy (Oliver Cotton, who also wrote the play), knocks at the door, after a 30-year estrangement. He tells Joe that he has taken drastic action on a man from their past, he believes was a particularly violent and murderous Nazi during the war, whilst on his holiday, in Daytona.

His regaling of the story takes up the majority of the first half and is longwinded. The true horror of the back-story fails to register fully – as Billy launches into monologues, so long that they had me looking at my watch. It’s not to say that the emotions weren’t there, but the importance and the investment in the story that an audience needs in the characters and their story are lost with the length of time it takes to get there. It felt as though the audience was lost during the swathes of dialogue.

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It’s not until the second act that the story becomes interesting and Lipman’s competence in ruling the stage is truly felt, reminding us of her abilities as a superb and subtle actor. If only it hadn’t taken so long to get there. There is a captivating monologue where Lipman opens up her character to show an emotionally bereft woman who has only just managed to cope with a life that was forced upon her. A romantic attachment, albeit brief, is quite breathtaking.

Until 23 August. Box office: 020 7930 8800. Venue details: Theatre Royal Haymarket, London http://www.trh.co.uk