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Cambridge Arts Theatre stages moving production of 84 Charing Cross Road

Stefanie Powers in 84 Charing Cross Road
Stefanie Powers in 84 Charing Cross Road

This adaptation of the best-selling book by Helene Hanff – which was also made into a memorable film starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins – runs until Saturday

Clive Francis in 84 Charing Cross Road
Clive Francis in 84 Charing Cross Road

84 Charing Cross Road is a tender and heartwarming tale of transatlantic friendship.

A bittersweet comedy, the play is based on the extraordinary true story of the remarkable relationship that developed over 20 years – from the late 1940s through to the late 1960s – between a vivacious New York writer and a London bookseller.

The play premiered at the Salisbury Playhouse in 1981 before transferring to the West End and Broadway. The film version was released in 1987.

What first struck me was how accurately the set recreated a dusty old London bookshop, while the mannerisms and costumes also added greatly to the period feel.

Samantha Sutherland in 84 Charing Cross Road
Samantha Sutherland in 84 Charing Cross Road

To the left of the stage and raised slightly was Helene Hanff’s New York apartment, and Stefanie Powers’ engaging portrayal of the writer and keen Anglophile was peppered with some lovely touches of humour that highlighted the cultural differences between the US and the UK.

The English characters – the staff in the bookshop – were all delightfully restrained and suitably dressed, making this writer feel deeply nostalgic for a time he never knew.

The inclusion of musical instruments – violin, flute, saxophone, etc. – played by said staff members was a nice touch and the skill of each as an actor/musician/singer was pleasing to watch.

Clive Francis was brilliantly cast in the role of the rather straigh-laced but good-hearted Frank Doel, whose missives began very formally, gradually becoming less so as the story unfolded – adding another comedic element.

Stefanie Powers in 84 Charing Cross Road
Stefanie Powers in 84 Charing Cross Road

Samantha Sutherland as the charming and lovely Cecily Farr was another outstanding casting decision.

Where the play differs from the film, I feel, is that it succeeds in wringing more raw emotion out of the story.

The film is an enjoyable, almost quaint little piece ideal for Sunday afternoon viewing, whereas this theatre production made the tears stream down my face as the tragic – and for those unfamiliar with the story, quite unexpected – ending unfolded.

If you liked the film, you’ll love this and if you don’t know the story, this is one of the best introductions to it that you’ll ever see.

84 Charing Cross Road runs until Saturday, June 30.

Show starts at 7.45pm and there is a matinee on Saturday at 2.30pm.

Tickets: £19-£39 (all ticket prices include a £3 per-ticket booking fee).


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