Tag Archives: Samantha Sutherland

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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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2018

The Paper Dolls

(reviewed at the New Wolsey Studio, Ipswich on 9 December 2015)

This show for very young children is based on the book by Julia Donaldson illustrated by Rebecca Cobb. Adaptation and direction are by Peter Glanville with puppet and set design by Lyndie Wright. It’s a presentation by the Little Angel Theatre and Polka Theatre – both well-known for the excellence of their productions for a juvenile audience.

The presenters are Jane Crawshaw and Samantha Sutherland, both of whom know when to let the puppets tell the story and when to step forward to let the audience into a secret. The Rosie puppet is almost blank-faced, so those familiar with the book can place their own interpretations on our heroine.

As in all good stories, likeable Rosie has a very horrid brother, all macho aggressiveness and much given to destroying anything which his sister might enjoy. Their mother tries to keep the peace (all parents will recognise the tantrums), as Rosie’s family of cut-out paper dolls (Wright has designed several sizes of these) have their adventures.

These involve trying to evade the jaws first of a toy dinosaur, then of an oven-glove crocodile and finally of a tiger. A very hungry tiger which just happens to resemble Rosie’s slippers. There is also a flower garden (cue brother’s lethal scissors) with birds and a ladybird in residence.

It makes a good introduction to the theatre for its intended audience and has enough clever design elements to keep the adults interested. Donaldson is probably the country’s uncrowned queen of fiction for this age group but Rosie’s story glides off the page and onto the stage effortlessly.

The Paper Dolls is at the New Wolsey Studio, Ipswich until 2 January.

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Filed under Family & children's shows, Reviews 2015