Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings


Love Letters

Hall Green Little Theatre


There is a sort of strange fascination with epistolary dramas, an intimacy that allows us, the audience, into the inner thoughts and feelings that people will often commit to paper but are often reticent to share in person.

We have had 84 Charing Cross Road, (1981) which started life as a book then became a two hander before it was later expanded to include dramatic interludes. It was the love story in letters between New York author Helene Hanff and London bookseller Frank Doel, a courtship on paper between a couple doomed never to meet.

There was Vita and Virginia (1992) chronicling the affair between Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf in their letters while Jason Robert Brown took it a step further with The Last Five Years,(2001) his beautiful musical with songs instead of letters as Cathy starts at the end of their marriage with her songs taking her to the beginning five years earlier while Jamie opens with their first meeting of lovers, his songs taking him to the break-up five years hence, the songs crossing midway with their marriage.

Albert Ramsdell Gurney Jr, who died two years ago this month, wrote Love Letters in 1988 with a premier, incidentally, in New York Public Library. The play was Pulitzer Prize nominated and tells of a love affair, by letter, between Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Melissa Gardner,

The pair are born to wealthy, prominent families whose lifelong affair in despatches starts with Andy’s invite to Melissa’s birthday party when they were children.


Al Mccaughey as Andy. Picture: Roy Palmer

Some of the letters are trivial, some funny, some sad, some tender, some angry, some . . . just letters. Andy likes to write, hold conversations by post, while Melissa . . . well, writing was not her favourite pastime, and she did tend to pad out her letters with drawings of her cat, or a dancing bear on a chain or, when she broke her leg skiing, her bedpan. And if Andy asked questions he would get yes, no answers – one letter in reply being no more than “no, no, no, yes, yes”.

Melissa had wealth and she was not afraid to use it, such as when she decided to make letter writing redundant by installing a telephone, at great expense, in her room . . .  at college!

We follow their lives through summer camps, birthday parties, balls and dances, football and hockey games, boarding schools and colleges.

Colleges . . . Andy at Yale where the couples attempt at sex at the Yale Harvard game is . . . let’s say Andy didn’t rise to the occasion.

In their years of education Andy is the conscientious one, Melissa the rebel; while he excels, she expels . . . from a succession of schools and colleges.


Samantha Lawson as Melissa

A spoiled brat, or perhaps she has a rebellious streak which has helped her become a promising artist with the wealth, and a mother, to afford to head off to Florence, ostensibly to study art while Andy heads off to the Navy, a lieutenant on the Admiral’s staff.

We have the rows, such a when Andy hears Melissa was necking with Bob Bartrum at a school dance and he claimed to have touched her breasts – both of them. Melissa denied it angrily, but Andy went silent for a while, accusing her of being a hot box – slang for a girl of somewhat easy virtue.

We discover sailor Andy has a girlfriend – and perhaps more – in Japan, but he returns home alone not wanting to talk about it – shades of Madame Butterfly perhaps.

We have Melissa’s marriage to Darwin, her children, her divorce, her drugs and drinking.

We hear of Andy’s return and going to law school, then his becoming a hot shot New York lawyer, then state senator – and finally, with forty years of letters behind them, they meet in New York and their years of letter writing are consummated, words made flesh, but rumours of their affair means Andy calls it off, worried about political fallout.

This was a time before the likes of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, a time when morality counted and marital infidelity, serial in the case of POTUS and Bojo, sounded the death knell to any political career.


Top left, clockwise, Lin Neale, Al Mccaughey, Steve Fisher and Samantha Lawson

And while Andy was going up in the world, Melissa was going down, descending into a black hole of drugs and alcohol with its inevitable and sad release. Her death gives us Andy’s last letter, to her mother, when, now 55, he finally declares he loved her. “I never loved anyone the way I loved her and I don’t think I ever will again.”

For that is what this is, a love story, and a sad one at that. We can see the two lives in parallel, sometimes within touching distance but never quite close enough, or together long enough to hold on, to become one. We know that they should be with each other, even their respective husband and wife seem to be as much something to write about as real soul mates, but it is never to be.

The years of letters give us laughs, insights into them and their New York and New England lives, insights into their love by post. Director Daniel R Beaton has used an unusual device of having two couples playing alternate nights. I saw Samantha Lawson and Al Mccaughey, on other nights it is Lin Neale and Steve Fisher.

With the same words and same set – two desks facing each other – come two plays, two sets of actors interpreting the same letters but in different ways.


Setting for a life . . .  and a love . . . in letters

Samanatha and Al gave us a flighty Melissa, self-assured and well capable of getting her own way, or at least what she wanted, you even had a feeling her marriage to Darwin might have had a hint of a dig at Andy’s slowness in coming forward. But behind all that was a vulnerability, even a sel-destruct button which she finally pressed.

Al’s Andy was more serious, following a WASP path that you suspect had been laid out even before he was born.

I am no expert on American accents, if they sound all right then I am happy, and theirs had a feel of New England about them, and most important, were consistent, which meant you could stop listening to them and just hear the words.

The play is clever, well written and, despite being just two people reading their letters and postcards to each other, it has drama, humour, pathos, sadness and most of all love, with it’s 90 minutes flying by helped by Tal Bainbridge’s lighting design.

It is a work which gets plenty of revivals, particularly on the West Coast of the US and in New York where it attracts names from movies and TV for the simple reason it is a play which demands little preparation and no memorising, after all you are reading letters, damn it.

But it is how they are read that matters, and Samantha and Al brought the words to life quite splendidly. To 22-06-19

Roger Clarke


Home Reviews A-Z Reviews by affiliate