I loved Lucy. Everyone loved Lucy. Lucille Ball was a Hollywood star, who with the help of her husband, broke into television in a big way. At that time it was not common for actors to move from one medium to another as they do today. Not just a trailblazer, an accomplished and successful businesswoman producing her own show, she was a comic genius widely accepted as one of the greats. And she became America’s comic sweetheart. Her show enjoyed syndication for many decades after its initial release.
The premise of this play I Loved Lucy, written by Lee Tannen, as well as the book that this play is based on, is that Lucy was lost to us as she grew older and withdrew from the spotlight. These lost years are presented to us as a love letter from a fan. Lee is something of a distant relative, who met Lucy at a family wedding, and later formed a close and personal relationship with her. There is something truly delicious about meeting one’s idol. It is something that few of us get to do. As the entire world adored Lucy (she hated being called Lucille), this play has the perfect set up.
It begins with this young, gay man coming to terms with meeting his idol and it quickly moves through the subsequent events that brought them together, and the blossoming relationship based on her love of backgammon and her need for company.
Stefan Menaul plays Lee Tannen. He is a rather unsympathetic character. Stefan started nervously, but found his rhythm quickly.
The entrance of Sandra Dickinson as Lucy marks the beginning of this play. The single most important ingredient is the casting of an actress capable of presenting a believable representation of a Hollywood star, but this actress also needs to be able to inject this role with so much more. There is not a lot of humour in the script but Dickinson lets us know that her character is capable of it. She is written as a difficult woman, but we nonetheless fall in love with Dickinson’s character. Dickinson weaves all the attributes we have come to know about Lucille Ball; her business acumen, her strength, her likeability and her intolerance of fools. There are moments when one can forget that it is not actually Lucille Ball on the small stage of the Jermyn Street Theatre. Her performance is remarkable.
Given that Dickinson has been able to flesh out such a detailed portrait of the woman, it is a shame that the writer has not. What lets this play down is that it is solely Lee Tannen’s pre-occupation with his small role in her life, and not his pre-occupation with exposing more interesting conversations and placing a little more meat on the bone.
Our review of the play’s initial run contains a very interesting thesis on his motives.
Congratulations to the creative team. Anthony Bigg’s direction is tight. The set design by Gregor Donnelly is perfect; a hint of Hollywood that does not distract. And the lighting by Charlie Lucas is effective.
Witnessing Sandra Dickinson, in full flight, at such close proximity is more than worth the ticket price.