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BWW Review: I LOVED LUCY, Jermyn Street Theatre, February 5 2016

Theatre can do so many things: it can make you think, make you angry, make you laugh. And, every now and again, it just makes you happy. I Loved Lucy (at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 27 February) does that - and then some - piling on the joy of being alive, leavening it with the pathos of, well, being alive.

Matthew Bunn plays Lee (who lived this life and wrote this play) whom we first meet as he is brokering a lifelong fanatical appreciation of long running sitcom I Love Lucy and a tenuous family connection, into a friendship soon cemented over the backgammon board. Cue Lucille (Sandra Dickinson) to tell him outrageous stories of her early days in Hollywood, of her marriages that came and went, of what she would like to do next as her star fades. Lee acts as a kind of unpaid therapist as all this floods out of Lucy, whose brilliant comic timing and appreciation of humour ("Never cut a laugh, Lee!") remains as sharp as ever as she enters old age. Lee gets plenty from the relationship too, as the gay man and the ageing megastar simply get along and we eavesdrop.

It's not all sweetness and light - how could it be over ten years? There are tiffs, even an estrangement, but they both need each other too much for separations to last (and you almost heave a sigh of relief when they make up, as the thought of them being apart becomes almost painful to contemplate).

All good stuff (especially for someone like me who can remember the television shows and heard stories of Hollywood's Golden Age from my mother for 50 years). But what elevates this production to a certainty for one of my highlights of the year, are the two performances, acting that transcends biopic's Oscar bait through supplementing the recreation of real lives with charisma beaming out into every seat in the stalls.

Matthew Bunn gets camp exactly right - it's there, but it's a part of Lee's personality, not its totality. He flirts with Lucy, flirts with the audience and, goddamit, I bet he flirts with the mirror. But we never stop liking him, a much underrated quality of acting a two-hander in a small space. When Lee goes too far (as anyone would) we feel his remorse and his fear for the friendship's survival, as his eyes shift down and the goofy smile is put on hold. Bunn is very good indeed.

And he needs to be, because Sandra Dickinson is the neonest of lights on a dark, dank February evening. She cackles and she kvetches, she bullies and she comforts, she shouts and she whispers and, most of all, she completely convinces us that she is the most famous woman in America during the 50s and 60s. At one moment she stutters a little and I thought, "Ha! It's not a perfect performance." But it we learn that it's one of Lucy's ticks - so it was a perfect performance after all! It's a masterclass and every acting student in London should see it, close up and be inspired.

Not many under the age of 50 or so will recall Lucille Ball's stardom and that might take the edge off the box office, but it shouldn't really. I Loved Lucy is much more than a window on her life - it's a window on friendship, on humour on, dare I say, humanity. It's a show conceived and executed with great confidence and authority and it made me feel better just by being there. That feeling is why so many viewers tuned into the TV show I Love Lucy, and why so many should go and see the play, I Loved Lucy.

Photo Scott Rylander



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