Jermyn Street Theatre, London
Written by Lee Tannen
Directed by Anthony Biggs
|Sandra Dickinson and Matthew Bunn|
Playing at the Jermyn Street Theatre, I Loved Lucy is Lee Tannen's “autobiographical” biography of the final chapters of Lucille Ball's life. An age gap of 40 years separated Ball and Tannen, who had been a devoted fan of America's favourite TV comedienne since his very young childhood. So when Ball's second marriage was, by chance, to bring her into a distant branch of Tannen's family, the young Jewish aficionado was gifted the first chance to meet his (TV) screen idol. From then on, through Tannen's early adult life he was to press ahead with cementing a devoted and enchantingly mutual, loving friendship with the star.
What emerges in Tannen's adaptation of his book, is a heartwarming tale of companionship and backgammon. Theirs may have been nothing stronger than the deepest of platonic friendships, but in an industry famed for superficiality and an obsession with image over substance, what nourished both Ball and Tannen was the sincerity of their fondness for each other. Two of the play's more profound moments are revealed in the second half: Firstly where Ball expresses her fears (and remember that this was the 1980's) that the gay Tannen may succumb to the AIDS rampage; and later, where having presented the Oscars alongside Bob Hope, she returns home to Tannen expressing her disgust at the fawning she'd received, remembering how when starting out in the business, she’d literally had nothing. Sandra Dickinson, in a remarkable take on Ball, pitches the scenes perfectly
Anthony Biggs directs with Matthew Bunn putting in a hardworking and creditable shift as the Ball-besotted New Yorker. But as the TV star herself, Dickinson steals the show. Her long established TV persona in the UK was derived from playing ditzy blondes. Here, as the supremely sassy redhead and in a sensational performance, Dickinson not only captures the publicly broadcast spirit of Ball, but also offers a convincing and sometimes fascinating glimpse into the star's later life.
Dickinson's performance has to rank amongst the best in town right now. Tannen's witty writing and recollections may occasionally let sentiment blur dramatic impact, but nonetheless this compelling two-hander makes for very entertaining theatre.
Runs until 27th February