84 Charing Cross Road
 

 

Stefanie

Stefanie Powers as Helene Hanff

84 Charing Cross Road

Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

*****

Writer Helene Hanff will always be associated with what is undoubtedly her most endearing and enduring best seller 84 Charing Cross Road.

Adapted for stage by James Roose-Evans and directed by Richard Beecham, the true-life drama is based on the letters and correspondence between Hanff and members of staff at Marks &Co. antiquarian bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road, London.

The American author and prolific bibliophile Helene Hanff begins writing to Frank Doel, Chief buyer at Marks and Co. in 1949 in the hope of finding a copy of a book not readily available in New York. This was to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship as the two characters continue to write to each other over a period of twenty years.

Hanff’s sporadic and sometimes meagre earnings from reading scripts, writing articles, T.V scripts and children’s history books means that her ambition to visit Frank and the other staff in London is continually put on hold due to lack of funds.

Sadly, the numerous failed plans mean they never actually meet but Hanff does eventually pay a visit to the empty shop in 1971 after its eventual closure in 1970 and Frank’s death in 1968.

The well designed stage set is divided between the eccentric author’s American brownstone apartment, littered with books, gin bottles and ashtrays and the bookshop in London and delineates the two acting areas flawlessly.

books

Clive Francis as Frank Doel, the bookshop's chief buyer 

The old bookshop is perfectly depicted, with shelves full of dusty old tomes, and dim lighting. The attention to detail is excellent with a lovely ting from the counter bell and a melodious ding from the bell hanging above the door adding to the mood,

In the words of Hanff’s friend Maxine, ‘Dear Heart, It is the loveliest old shop straight out of Dickens. You would go absolutely out of your mind about it . . . It’s dim inside, you smell the shop before you see it; it’s a lovely smell, I can’t articulate it easily, but it combines must and dust and age...’

Hollywood actress, Stefanie Powers (known for role in T.V. series Hart to Hart) plays the effervescent and rather eccentric Helene Hanff impeccably. She breathes life into Hanff’s words and letters with superb characterisation, humour and seemingly effortless delivery.

The emotion she portrays is palpable as she reads of the death of her dear friend Frank, a truly tear-jerking moment, all credit to her convincing and excellent performance.

Clive Francis, perfectly embodies the role of Frank Doel, the initially rather stuffy true English gent. With exquisite characterisation, immaculate delivery and magnificent acting skills he manages to portray warmth and affection whilst maintaining the gentlemanly attitude of the 1950s. His performance is utterly believable.

There is a strong supporting cast,(Samantha Sutherland, William Oxborrow, Loren O’Dair, Ben Tolley and Fiona Bruce) each adding to this admirable production, not only in the form of dialogue and delivery but also by playing instruments and singing during brief interludes of music and song which help to depict the passage of time. Whilst unexpected, it certainly is a pleasant and original addition to the overall production.

This highly recommended piece of theatre is thoroughly engaging, exceptionally well acted, beautifully produced and directed. With well designed set, costume, lighting and sound it is an all round credit to stage drama. Oh, and look out for the remarkable stage transformation near the end, you will really be asking yourself ‘how did they do that?’!. To 02-06-18.

Rosemary Manjunath and Elizabeth Smith

29-05-1

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