How I Learned To Drive

  • Date:
    Saturday, July 18, 1998

    Is it a great play? Well I don't think so. Actually I found it to be one of those plays where you cannot make up your mind whether you like it or not. It is a fairly neutral play, neither good nor bad.

    The story is set in and around Maryland and concerns the incestuous relationship between a teenage girl and her married uncle. Uncle Beck has a drinking problem and seems able to control it provided he meets with his niece every week to discuss the problems in his life. What develops is a relationship whereby she both trusts and loves him and he loves her. However, he abuses that trust and manipulates her and her feelings to initiate a sexual relationship. He does not believe he is betraying her trust, because he never takes the sexual encounter further then she is willing.

    This is a difficult subject that seems to be handled quite sensitively by the author who is trying to give us both points of view, the abused and the abuser. The girl is fatherless and vulnerable and is looking for a loving father figure. Uncle Beck is lonely and a drunkard with many personal problems who becomes totally obsessed with his niece and although he does abuse her, it seems at times that the relationship is damaging him far more than her! But, this relationship still leaves a mental scar on the girl.

    Helen McCrory, playing the 40 or so year-old girl looking back on her teenage years, produces a convincing performance and so too does Kevin Whately as the creepy Uncle Beck.

    "How I Learned to Drive" received mixed notices from the popular press. JEREMY KINGSTON of THE TIMES says "Whately's performance, perforce less showy, keeps us guessing as to the extent and self-awareness of the subterfuges of a man obsessed with a younger girl's charm, innocence and big breasts. John Crowley's confident direction helps the later scenes to generate an almost breathless tension." CHARLES SPENCER of THE DAILY TELEGRAPH wrote, "..yet the play's creepiness isn't entirely confined to the subject matter. There is something unintentionally creepy, too, about the writing, which suffers from that peculiarly American soft-centredness, that craven desire not to cause offence. If it is possible to imagine a "feel-good" show about child abuse, then this is it." SHERIDAN MORLEY said, "Paula Vogel's 90 minute flashback is a terrible little play, though not necessarily a scandalous one." NICHOLAS DE JONGH of THE EVENING STANDARD says, "How I Learned To Drive alarmed me because it convincingly suggests how terrible complicity is achieved between abuser and abused - a sort of secret in the family cherished for years."

    'How I Learned To Drive' is an interesting play that looks at child abuse from a different handle than most plays of its type. It gives you a feeling of sorrow for the abuser as well as the abused.

    I think it's worth seeing, but probably just the once.

    (Darren Dalglish)

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