Darlington Hippodrome – until 26 May
Rarely have I been to the theatre and watched a production that I never wanted to end, but 84 Charing Cross Road is one such show.
Premiering in Darlington, 84 Charing Cross Road tells the true story of American writer, Helene Hanff (Stephanie Powers) and Frank Doel (Clive Francis) the very English chief buyer of Marks & Co Antiquarian Booksellers . After seeing an advert in the “Saturday Review of Literature”, Helene sends a letter for an order for some antiquarian books and thus begins a 20 year friendship conducted completely through a series of letters. There are many varied book requests – from Vulgate Latin Bibles to Love Poems, from the Sermons of John Donne to Wind in the Willows – all of which are found and dispatched by book post to America with some amazing pieces of correspondence included.
Beginning in 1949, whilst the UK was still in rationing, Helene’s generosity extends to sending food parcels to be shared among the shop staff: Christmas hampers, Easter eggs and nylon stockings. The letters between Helene and Frank and some of the shop staff include such things as the Coronation of Elizabeth II, the Brooklyn Dodgers, many discussions about books and instructions on how to make Yorkshire Pudding.
We learn about Cecily Farr (Samantha Sutherland) who leaves the shop to join her RAF husband in married quarters in Iraq. Megan Wells (Loren O’Dair) who goes to live in South Africa but eventually ends up in Australia. Bill Humphreys (Ben Tolley) who lives with his Aunt. George Martin (William Oxborrow) who unfortunately passes away during the play and Joan Todd (Fiona Bruce) who writes the final letter to Helene
The passage of time is marked by the shop staff playing musical instruments on stage, Christmas carols and spring songs, lively tunes about holidays and the final heartbreaking verses of Abide With Me.
James Roose-Evans adaption of Hanff’s book, Richard Beechams directions of this touching tale and the wonderful set designed by Norman Coates, make this an absolute joy of a production. Heartwarming in its simplicity and a delight to watch.
In Darlington until Saturday 26 May and on tour around the UK. If you only see one show this year – this must be the one