The­atre

Daily Express - - WEEKEND FILMS - 84 CHar­iNG CrOSS rOad

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

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