On Sunday, I had the pleasure of seeing the Hunters Hill Theatre production of '84 Charing Cross Road' at Club Ryde. This production is the first time HHT have performed in their new venue, a quaint space with great acoustics and a snazzy lighting rig.
I walked in knowing nothing of James Roose-Evens play, '84 Charing Cross Road' and walked out enchanted by the story. The tale follows American writer Helene Hanff who is in search of obscure classics and British literature and writes to a little book shop in London requesting some titles. The play is a back and forth between Hanff in New York and the Marks and Co staff at 84 Charing Cross Road London, with antiquarian bookseller Frank Doel being the primary contact. I was charmed to find out that '84 Charing Cross Road' is based on a true story. In 1970 Helene Hanff published a novel of the same name chronicling her 20-year correspondence with Doel and the other staff at the London book store.
Taking the lead as Helene Hanff is Liz Grindley, she portrays the brazen author with ease and style. Her accent is impeccable; I can't imagine the actress without the distinctive, classic New York sound. Opposite her is Ross Alexander as Frank Doel, who is well cast in the role as the British bookseller. Alexander plays Doel as reserved and mild, which reads as quintessentially British and contrasts Grindley nicely. Kimberlea Smith is very sweet as Cecily Far, one of Doel's co-workers. And rounding out the cast is Suzan Mozell, who covers two roles. She is adorable as Megan Wells Doel's other co-worker but shines as Maxine, a fabulous, socialite, American actress and friend of Hanff's.
Director Maggie Scott described the play as a 'Love Affair' between Hanff and the bookshop, all its staff and London, which is so wholesome. I felt like they prioritised fun in the direction of the show, and I appreciate that. I was smiling the minute the show started; Grindley won me over immediately as she welcomed me into the world. During Act One, I felt moments when the comedic timing seemed rushed, but I was pleased to see this was not the case after intermission. Act two was joyous; Grindley came back on stage and found a rhythm that better honoured the playwright's hilarious script and won big laughs from the audience.
Wayne Chee made magic happen with the set and lighting. The stage was split down the middle, one side Hanff's New York apartment the other the Marks and Co bookstore in London, both sides were distinct yet stood side by side in harmony. The attention to detail was beyond reproach. I really appreciated the subtle difference in light between New York and London. All the books in the show were covered in white which was an excellent creative choice. Props were handled by Coralie Fraser, who I assume was responsible for the tedious task of covering all the books. Penelope Korths was the costume designer and covered two decades with only two outfits per character. The classic, well-tailored ensembles they chose worked brilliantly and told me so much about each character as soon as the actor stepped on stage.
I enjoyed my time at 84 Charing Cross Road; it was such a treat watching a relationship slowly develop between Hanff and the book store staff. My favourite part was finding out that Hanff at one point wrote fictional murders for television; we love TV shows about murder here at Dark Stories! Hunters Hill Theatre's '84 Charing Cross Road' is a delightful true story with an ending that made me tear up!
You won't be travelling to London or New York anytime soon, so treat yourself and do both in one trip to the theatre! 84 Charing Cross Road plays at Club Ryde till July 4th with performances Friday night, Saturday matinee, Saturday night and Sunday matinee.