Richmond Theatre until June 16 then touring until June 30. Tickets: atgtickets.com US WRITER Helene Hanff and British bookseller Frank Doel had what might be termed a “special relationship”. For two decades from 1949, New Yorker Hanff ordered obscure secondhand books from Doel’s musty, dusty bookshop, sending cash as well as the occasional food parcel to him and his staff who were still subject to rationing.
The play that derived from her book of the same title is a portrait of another era and one that will be utterly alien to future generations, if not the current one.
We live in the age of social media, digital banking, smartphones and Kindles, meaning manual typewriters, books and even cash are all becoming historical artefacts, soon to belong in a museum rather than what we laughingly refer to as the “real world”.
The letters that fly back and forth across the Atlantic between Hanff and Doel, as well as some of his staff, are not particularly dramatic. But they are pregnant with character, social detail and the sense of an evolving relationship, bonded by books.
Stefanie Powers, best known for Hart To Hart and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E, is quirkily engaging as Hanff, a freelance writer and potential agoraphobic. Clive Francis strikes just the right note of buttoned-up benignity as Doel, slowly unfurling like a flower under Hanff’s teasings, cajolings and interrogations.
Most of the stage is dominated by the bookshop Marks & Co, while Hanff’s tiny apartment occupies a quarter of the space. The gulf between them is suggested by a whooshing sound as letters fly across the sea by airmail. No doubt some will find this relentlessly old-fashioned but that is the point now that we
STAR TURNS: Stefanie Powers as Helene Hanff in 84 Charing Cross Road, left, and Laura Linney in My Name Is Lucy Barton, right