Pros: Funny, moving and strangely sad. A brilliant study of a showbiz legend.
Cons: Young audiences are unlikely to have heard of Lucille Ball, which may limit the show’s appeal.
Jermyn Street Theatre was the perfect setting for I Loved Lucy. It’s a story documenting the friendship between Lucille Ball, comedienne and light entertainment legend of the 50s, and Lee Tannen, a distant relative of Lucy’s second husband, Gary Morton.
A montage of stills formed a vivid backdrop to the stage. The most prominent featured Lucy treading grapes in an episode of her TV show I Love Lucy. This appeared later in 80s chick flick, Pretty Women; during the scene where Julia Roberts was lying on the floor giggling as she watched her on TV.
I was then struck by the only real weakness in this otherwise excellent play. Unless you’re old enough to remember Pretty Woman, Lucille Ball might not even register a flicker of recognition. I vaguely remember re-runs of the TV show back in the 70s, but was only curious because my dear Mum was such a huge fan.
However, there is no questioning the power of Lee Tannen’s first-hand account of life with Lucy. Lee is played by Matthew Bunn, who doubles as the play’s narrator and Lucy’s companion in the final 10 years of her life. While Matthew delivers a solid, polished performance, the plaudits unsurprisingly go to Sandra Dickinson in the title role. I found Sandra’s portrayal of Lucy remarkable on so many levels. Until now I couldn’t shake the image of her as a squeaky voiced American actress, who made TV adverts with the annoyingly catchy tagline ‘you can put the dinner on I’ll be home in 20 minutes’. All such frivolity now seems a distant memory after Sandra donned a wig, glasses and padding to effect a truly memorable portrayal of a star reflecting on the past.
There are genuine laugh out loud moments, particularly her jibes at Shirley MacLaine and Richard Burton. There are also touches of poignancy and regret. For example her divorce from Desi Arnaz, whom we suspect was the great love of her life, and the fact he wasn’t there to share the credit for countless awards she won in later years.
I Loved Lucy is superbly acted, well written and staged with a wonderful simplicity. Ultimately its great storytelling told with honesty, charm and wit.
Writer: Lee Tannen
Director: Anthony Biggs
Producer: Gary DiMauro, Therese Steiner and Showstoppers NY
Box Office: 020 7287 2875
Booking link: http://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/show/i-loved-lucy/
Booking until: 27 February 2016