PAIR FORGE FRIENDSHIP THROUGH A LOVE OF BOOKS
April 14, 2004
NEVER put off until tomorrow what you can do today was one of the underlying themes of this bittersweet story which is set in America and Britain and spans the years 1949 to 1971.
Rula Lenska plays the vivacious New York writer Helene Hanff, whose love of old books is the catalyst for an enduring transatlantic friendship with bookseller Frank Doel (William Gaunt), who works for the London-based bookshop Marks & Co.
The story begins after World War II, when London was still in the grip of food rationing.
Struggling New York writer Helene Hanff, who loves book but cannot afford expensive ones, spies an advert in a newspaper for a London bookstore.
Helene’s first request for a book — she orders a copy (“unabridged, please!”) of Pepys’s Diary — kickstarts a correspondence that lasts 20 years.
The two characters — Helene, brash and loud, Frank, polite and reserved — are poles apart, yet the play captures their burgeoning friendship without resorting to sentimental gush. There is no physical contact between the two — indeed, the pair never meet in the play — but the intimate correspondence they share makes up for not linking up in person.
The letters sent between the two are funny and informative — Helene often mentions her desire to visit London, but fate seems to get in the way each time — and Frank tells her of the happenings in London, as well as with his wife and family.
There is only one minor set change in the play, which takes place in Helene’s New York apartment and at Marks & Co at 84 Charing Cross Road. The set is simple but effective and captures the antiquarian character of a well-stocked and cherished bookshop interior.
Rula is likeable as the outgoing Helene, although her American accent takes getting used to, and William gives a polished performance as Frank.
The rest of the cast — including Helen Grace, who plays Cecily, a member of staff at the bookshop — perform their minor roles with aplomb.
In the world of hi-tech communications and instant messaging by e-mail, this poignant play brings back the memories of the art of letter writing with ink and crisp white paper, and vividly conveys the magical ways that friendship can open up new worlds of experience and meaning.
84 Charing Cross Road will play at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford from Monday, April 26, to Saturday, May 1.
Tickets cost from £13. Call the box office on (01483) 440000 to book.