84 Charing Cross Road
SDC at Southport Little Theatre
AT first glance of the synopsis, you might think this would not be the most enthralling of plays. A woman at one side of the stage reading out loud a letter, to which a man on the opposite side of the stage replies, doesn’t sound exciting.
Plus six other actors wandering around with scarcely a word to say between them all evening. Hardly a fascinating scenario.
But how wrong you would be!
This was totally captivating theatre from the moment the curtain opened to reveal a stunning set (designed by Adrian Miles-Roberts and Paul Wilkinson) featuring a well-stocked, old-fashioned English bookshop alongside a cheap bedsit. The sound of the keys tapping away on the old-fashioned shop typewriter was so evocative of the period.
Helen Bennett was magnificent as Helene Hanff, an American lady living in a downmarket brownstone apartment in New York, writing to a bookseller in London to order works of literature.
Ted Bullen gave his usual excellent performance as Frank Doel, the manager of Marks & Co bookshop, who conducts a two-way conversation by post with his American customer over two decades as she gives him lists of the titles she is looking for.
Thus, as the months go by, we see the relationship between the two correspondents developing into friendship and even extending to the other members of the bookshop staff as Helene sends food parcels containing items unavailable in Britain.
Meanwhile, as the letters are being read out, the rest of the staff busy themselves doing jobs around the shop, making us feel we are in there with them amongst the bookshelves ourselves.
Corinna Davies and Alice McKillop played shop girls, Cecily and Megan, who also wrote to Helene. Jim Longworth, Ellis Coulter and Peter McKillop were the male members of staff and Sandra Unsworth doubled up as an American visitor and a later employee.
We are taken though all the big events of the period such as rationing after the Second World War; the death of George VI; the coronation of Elizabeth II; the tragedy of the Manchester United plane crash; Carnaby Street and The Beatles, all with a background of recorded newsreel broadcasts plus a soundtrack of music from the 1940’s and 50’s by artists like Billie Holliday, Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra.
Sitting in the theatre was like travelling in a time machine, with a soundtrack that captured all the atmosphere of what life was like in those post-war years.
Altogether a compelling production, with lots of humour along the way, expertly directed by Paul Wilkinson.
84 Charing Cross Road runs until this coming Saturday. Don’t miss it. A night to remember.
Star Rating 9 out of 10. A poignant journey to post-war England.