Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Theatre at Baddow at the Parish Hall

In the days before Amazon, books were a valued commodity, fine editions especially precious.

Helene Hanff's story tells of her twenty-year transatlantic love affair with a London bookshop. TAB's enjoyable production, directed with a keen eye for detail and a strong sense of period by Helen Quigley, sets the author's dowdy brownstone apartment against the dusty bookshelves of Marks & Co. I liked the way the stacks seemed to disappear into the darkness off left, and almost all the volumes looked authentic.

Roger Saddington was Frank Doel, the “solitary soul” who signs the firm's letters. He skilfully suggested the desk-bound, buttoned-up individual who gradually warms to Helene's playful raillery. Beth Crozier's spinster wordsmith looked absolutely right, every inch the writer, and she gave an impressive performance in this huge role. The moments when she learns she is to be evicted, when she asks anxiously after the “other girls” and when she hears of Doel's death were particularly moving, but this was a colourful patchwork of moods and emotions, her letters brought to vibrant life.

Impeccable support from a strong cast, including Alan Ireland as Old Mr Martin, Diane Johnston as the glamorous actress friend, Patrick Willis as Bill Humphries, Claire Lloyd as Welsh shop-girl Megan, and Eleanor March as a very 1950s Miss Cecily.

Occasionally the pace flagged, the narrative threatened to lose its way, but the overall effect was wonderfully warm, a faithful picture of an unlikely infatuation in a world we have lost for ever. I treasure the tableau – pure Norman Rockwell – when the staff gathered to unwrap the first of many Christmas parcels from New York …
I just hope someone caught it on camera !

production photos by Helen Quigley

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