Review: Poignant, gentle and touching play by Sleaford Little Theatre
Sleaford Little Theatre’s latest offering for spring 2023 was a gentle, touching tale by Helene Hanff.
84, Charing Cross Road tells the story of the New York scriptwriter’s 20-year correspondence and curiously blossoming relationship, with an antiquarian bookshop in London in an attempt to mentally escape the four walls of her writer’s studio flat.This play has been three years in the making, having originally been due to be staged in 2020 when Covid-19 got in the way. But it was well worth the wait as the characters told their story by reading their letters aloud.
The staging was inspired too, splitting the set in two to allow both scenes to carry on simultaneously.
The audience were full of applause and admiration for the principal pairing of brash Helene, played by Caroline Johnson, and efficient bookshop manager Frank Doel, played by Brendan Sheppard. Their engaging characterisation, warmth and understanding of the humour was truly impressive, as was the sheer volume of lines that both delivered with absolute confidence. This was boosted by touches such as Caroline Johnson’s robust singing voice which generated applause on its own.
As the shop emerged from the austerity of post-war rationing, Frank steadily shed his layers of English properness and an unlikely friendship between Helene and the staff grows, so that Johnson’s delivery of Helene’s reaction to Frank’s death is felt deeply. The shop cast delivered their supporting roles well too, to add up to a triumph of understated excellence.