Sunday, 16 December 2018

Review: 84 deserves 100 per cent score

HERE was a dilemma: I’ve been banging on in these pages about how brilliant 84 Charing CrossRoad was going to

HERE was a dilemma: I’ve been banging on in these pages about how brilliant 84 Charing CrossRoad was going to be. Then I had to review it.

Supposing, after all that hype, it was no good; what would I do then? Forget I went? Accidentally email my review to the wrong address?

No need. It’s good and my integrity as a reviewer remains intact. Actually, it’s not just good, not just very good, but very good indeed.

Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I, I’ve been doing the show’s publicity — but one of the reasons for that was because I knew the play’s and this production’s track record. It didn’t clean up NODA awards for nothing — they don’t come easy, as I know to my own cost.

So here it is at the Kenton with Suri Poulos and Richard Ward taking up the roles they did so well in last year in Chesham. This show has pace, energy and commitment, it never flags and that’s down to some imaginative direction from Mike Consden but mostly to the skilful way the play swaps between two sides of the Atlantic.

From skittish, capricious Helene Hanff in New York, a screenwriter who prefers to get her books from a specialist store in London rather than New York, to upright English gentleman Frank Doel and his staff in that store in WC2.

The script is entirely the texts of letters sent between the two but brought to life in such an animated way that they might as well be talking to each other directly.

The split set is perhaps rather busy and the lighting could do with being better balanced to illuminate actions and reactions. But these are trifling matters set against the delivery of the actors who make this such a treat.

Suri Poulos, a native Texan, delivers the neurotic, kind-hearted Helen Hanff to us with a dynamic range which sees her switching in a split-second from playful, to furious, thoughtful and ultimately to caring. It’s a performance from the top drawer.

Richard Ward is the reserved Englishman who has to age before us over 20 years in a way that Helene is spared. The correspondence starts with book transactions but develops over the years to first name terms.

There are honourable mentions also for Caroline Hopkins’ cameo as a visiting American friend to the store, and Ewa Jackson’s and Judy Consden’s excitable bookshop staff. Yes, it’s worth the effort — thank goodness.

84 Charing Cross Road

Kenton Theatre

Tuesday, September 24

Mike Rowbottom

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