Tag Archives: Richard Beecham

84 Charing Cross Road

reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 26 June

1949 can seem like an alien time in 2015, a dingy lapse between wartime heroics and the Swinging Sixties. Yet that’s when the correspondence between New York-based struggling writer Helene Hanff and London bookshop Marks & Co began.

Hanff’s book detailing her correspondence, first with manager Frank Doel and later with other staff members which lasted until the shop closed 20 years later was published in 1970. There have been several stage, radio and film adaptations; this Cambridge Arts Theatre production uses the James Roose-Evans text and is directed by Richard Beecham.

There is also music composed and arranged by Rebecca Applin. That may pull you up short, if you come to the theatre expecting a straight-forward staging. Norman Coates’ set is conventional enough – floor to ceiling books on dark shelves with a large wireless in the foreground and Hanff’s cluttered office cum living-room to one side.

Music makes itself heard before a word is spoken. For the Londoners, this is traditional and comes from two violins, a cello, an accordion and a flute. Hanff is heralded by a jazzy saxophone. The passing of the seasons is indicated by carols and folk songs; the quasi-sombre ending is marked by the hymn “Abide with me”.

In between these interludes, the story flows as postal friendships develop and the characters find themselves caught up with each other’s lives, from Hanff’s fledgling television scripts (thanks to John Donne) through the austerities and food rationing of postwar Britain which prompt gift parcels in one direction and reciprocal gifts in return.

Leading the cast is Clive Francis as Doel, beautifully poised between business rectitude and an underlying sense of generosity Stefanie Powers is every inch the savvy, slightly abrasive New Yorker, a nice contrast with Samantha Sutherland’s gentle Cecily Farr, Doel’s assistant, who first begins to broaden the transatlantic correspondence.

Loren O’Dair contributes a well-contrasted pair of cameos as the mousey Megan Wells and US leading lady Maxine Stuart. Ultimately, the story keeps our attention through the two leading performances, and in this we are not let down. Chris Warren’s sound and Chris Davey’s lighting designs are subtle, indeed clever, but I’m not convinced that this is the definitive way to stage this script.

Four star rating.

84 Charing Cross Road runs at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until 30 June with matinées on 28 and 30 June as part of a national tour.

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Driving Miss Daisy

reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 6 November

Where do our prejudices come from? nature or nurture? The question underlies Alfred Uhry’s deceptively straightforward Driving Miss Daisy which the Theatre Royal, Bath is currently touring in a 30th anniversary production.

Director Richard Beecham and designer Simon Kenny keep the three-hander on the move with clever use of a bleached-effect set, suggestive of clapboard and minmal props and furnishings. There i also highly effective music an sound by Jon Nicholls. But for all this, it all boils down in the end to the actors themselves.

Siân Phillips is Miss Daisy, the former teacher who crashes the car her businessman son Boolie (Teddy Kempner) has bought her and is now required to use a Black chauffeur Hoke (Derek Griffiths). her perforamnce is beautifully nuanced as the Jewish momma with her own prejudices begins to trust Hoke and ultimately to depend upon him.

Kempner’s study of a man who is accepted as a quasi-honorary member of WASP society, but who is perhaps too careful not to overstep the mark is also multi-faceted. Hoke has his own shoulder-load of chips and Griffiths entices us with equal skill to join him in the character’s own journey from spikey, well-concealed resentment to a mental and social place  of comparative calm.

The waltz rhythm of the old “When the ball is over” ballad permuates the action. It suggests a flavour of Tennessee Williams’ faded Southern belle Amanda, but Phillips’ Daisy learns how to baance a never-to-come-again past with the inevitibility of future’s changes. it makes for a memorable, thought-provoking evening in the theatre.

Four and a half-star rating.

Driving Miss Daisy runs at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until 11 November with matinées on 9 and 11 November.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2017