BWW Review: 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD, Richmond Theatre

BWW Review: 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD, Richmond Theatre

BWW Review: 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD, Richmond TheatreIn an age of Instant Messenger, Snapchat and Twitter, many of us may have never experienced the quiet thrill of receiving a handwritten, personal letter.

84 Charing Cross Road is James Roose-Evans' adaptation of Helene Hanff's charming and very personal book of letters. It goes back to a time when people not only hand wrote correspondence, but had to buy their books from a physical bookshop, rather than clicking to purchase them online. The story is an account of the New York playwright's own twenty-year relationship with the manager of Marks & Co. bookshop, conducted entirely through letters.

The result is a nostalgic and truly touching portrayal of a pure friendship between the pair, even though they never meet. They are drawn together by their mutual love of literature and begin to challenge each other's thinking and break down cultural barriers. It is a love letter to a bygone age where kindness and thoughtfulness reigns and the poignancy the story creates is only enhanced by its simplicity.

Stephanie Powers takes on the role of straight-talking writer Helene Hanff. She is sharp, direct and witty, but also frustrating as she constantly has to put off her trip to visit Frank and the shop in person. Powers shows excellent timing with some sharp one-liners and is very at ease in the role, especially with the momentary caustic attitude when Frank fails to send her exactly what she wants. Her projection could be a little louder, especially to show the difference in her delivery to Frank.

Bookshop manager is Frank Doel, played with beautiful understatement by Clive Francis. A classic portrayal of a true English gentleman, he demonstrates a direct contrast to the bold Helene. As time goes by, Francis shifts the character slightly, showing a softening of the stiff upper lip and a kind and gentle disposition.

There is a subtle but very real chemistry between the pair, even though they do not actually interact in person. The pair react to each other as they listen to the letters being read aloud; it could easily fail on stage, but it works very well. There is a great warmth to the friendship, which is refreshing in the way it remains completely platonic.

The production shifts between continents with ease and mentions events such as the end of the war, rationing and the Queen's Coronation to signify time passing by. Director Richard Beecham avoids the production becoming simply a series of monologues by encorporating lots of movement and interaction, especially from Frank with the other bookshop staff.

The production hangs on the main pair, but additions from the rest of the cast are essential to create atmosphere and interest. Samantha Sutherland is wonderfully upbeat as shop assistant Cecily Farr and the inclusion of her letters to and from Helene create a nice contrast.

Helene's haphazard writer's desk sits on a small platform within the antiquarian bookshop. Norman Coates' detailed set is atmospheric and so realistic you can almost smell the musty fragrance of old books and old catalogues.

The original 1981 production of 84 Charing Cross Road went from regional theatre, to the West End and finally Broadway. This production deserves the same level of success. There are no fireworks in the play, which only serves to enhance the charm and poignancy of the story. This is an enchanting revival of a bittersweet play that ripples with nostalgia.

84 Charing Cross Road is at Richmond Theatre until 16th June, then touring

Photo Credit: Richard Hubert Smith

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From This Author Aliya Al-Hassan

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