Nobody was more surprised by the success of her Helene Hanff’s memoir 84 Charing Cross Road than the author herself. Probably best known through its critically acclaimed 1987 movie adaptation starring Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft, the theatrical presentation on which it was based, is a far more static affair. It restrains itself predominantly to a split set and letter-reading between Hanff in New York and the second-hand bookshop manager Frank Doel at the eponymous London address.
James Roose-Evans’ adaptation is still relatively fresh, if a little dramatically lacking. Richard Beecham’s production benefits from a supporting cast of actor-musicians who lend texture to the narrative with a mix of original music composed by Rebecca Applin and the occasional familiar song.
It remains at heart a two-hander. Clive Francis, revisiting the role he originally played in 2015 at Salisbury Playhouse, stars opposite the US actor Stefanie Powers. Her presence as Hanff lends a satisfying authenticity to the role. Initially bold and outspoken, Powers eventually brings home the sense of the intellectual isolation that deeply frustrated the author.
In turn Francis, as Doel, perfectly conveys the indomitable resilience of post-war Britain, rising phoenix-like from austerity. Although never voiced, Francis underscores his performance with a burgeoning affection for Hanff, making this at some level, a story of unrequited love as much as it is one of an unfulfilled friendship.
Satisfying revival that adds musical touches to an already absorbing narrative