Clive Francis stars alongside Stefanie Powers in 84 Charing Cross Road at Richmond Theatre this week. He gives us his perspective on the show...

This will now be my third voyage down Charing Cross Road to mix with the worthy inhabitants at number 84; only this time with fresh eye on the production.

James Roose Evans, who not only cleverly adapted the letters in the first place, but has directed practically every major production in this country and Broadway since the plays birth in 1981, has now relinquished the reins to director Richard Beecham, who has brilliantly assembled a cast of actor musicians making up the staff of the shop, so that the evening is cleverly punctuated with music and song.

84 Charing Cross Road is a love story between two people who never, in the twenty years of corresponding with each other, actually meet. It is a quietly joyful, meditative portrait between the New York screenwriter Helene Hanff and the London based bookseller Frank Doel, a correspondence that touches them both profoundly.

Frank Doel is a fascinating character and being a book collector myself (my interest being 20th century English first editions), someone I would love to have met.

His knowledge and passion for book collecting is clearly illustrated by the reverential respect shown to him by the owners of every London based bookshop; all of whom turned out in force to attend his funeral in1968.

Doel was meticulous to a fault, and when he wasn’t racing around the country buying up books to replenish the stock of Marks and Co, he made it his job to know and compare prices of anything of interest that might be on offer in those of his rival shops too.

An extremely private man and very protective of his family he nevertheless strikes up an extraordinary plutonic friendship with Helene Hanff; a friendship that’s never fully realised.

It begins quite formally between bookseller and customer, he referring to her as ‘Madame’ and she to him as ‘Sir.’ By the end all formality is dropped and a deep loving understanding between them grows. The letters also gives the audience an insight into a particular kind of English civility that has in effect sadly passed away.

As actors the difficulty for both myself and Stefanie Powers is that we have to conduct this relationship without ever once being unable to look at each other; a difficult exercise, and yet at the same time, thanks to the brilliant way that the letters have been edited and adapted for the stage, rewarding.

People tend to think of 84 Charing Cross Road is a two hander. This is not strictly true as we get to know and delve into the lives of each member of staff as well, who in turn all become as close to Helene Hanff as Frank Doyle eventually does. It is an evening full of nostalgia and fun and I would like to think timeless.

84 Charing Cross Road, Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, TW9 1QJ, June 11-16. Tickets £16.90 - £44.90.

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