84 Charing Cross Road
CHRISTOPHER SMITH Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich
Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich
An exchange of correspondence over a quarter of a century between an American spinster of a certain age in love with literature and a middle-aged bookseller in London might not really seem the stuff of drama.
But Rhett Davies's production of James Roose-Evans's stage version of Helene Hanff's story works well.
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The thread of a plot that hardly goes anywhere links characters who are complex and good to know. With a certain amount of humour and enough references to contemporary events to create perspective, the result is a pleasant evening of moving, if slightly sentimental, entertainment.
Half the stage is in Charing Cross, half in New York. Both locations are created in persuasive detail, with unobtrusive lighting effects to transport us from one to the other. In these settings two people play out a relationship that deepens and grows in complexity without their ever meeting, let alone dreaming of misbehaving.
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Peter Howell's Frank is kindly but diffident, reserved yet gradually opening his mind to new feelings. His conventional Englishness brings out the overflowing emotionalism of Judi Daykin's Helene.
The pair draw personalities with details, nuances and hesitations, not broad brush strokes.
The success of their interpretation is shown by the way they can keep up the audience's interest in a friendship that is always at arm's length.
There is a touch of Dickens, if not quite his vigour, in these affectionate portrayals of people with their
hopes, fears, joys and, finally, their sorrows.