84 Charing Cross Road review at Richmond Theatre, London – ‘a satisfying revival’
Nobody was more surprised by the success of Helene Hanff’s memoir 84 Charing Cross Road than the author herself.
Probably best known through its critically-acclaimed 1987 movie adaptation starring Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft, the theatrical presentation on which it was based is a more static affair. It is predominantly staged on a split set, with the action alternating between Hanff in New York and Frank Doel, the second-hand bookshop manager at the eponymous London address, as they read the letters they have written each other.
James Roose-Evans’ adaptation is fresh, if a little dramatically lacking. Richard Beecham’s production benefits from a supporting cast of actor-musicians who lend texture to the narrative with a mix of original music composed by Rebecca Applin and the occasional familiar song.
Still, the production remains at heart a two-hander. Clive Francis, revisiting the role of Dole that he played in 2015 at Salisbury Playhouse, stars opposite the US actor Stefanie Powers. Her presence as Hanff lends a satisfying authenticity to the role. Initially bold and outspoken, Powers eventually brings home the sense of the intellectual isolation that deeply frustrated the author.
In turn, Francis perfectly conveys the indomitable resilience of post-war Britain, rising phoenix-like from austerity. Although never voiced, Francis underscores his performance with a burgeoning affection for Hanff, making this, at some level, a story of unrequited love as much as it is one of an unfulfilled friendship.