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

Letters deliver an evening of delight

Couple of letters: John Lucock and Mary OToole as the transatlantic letter-writers who sustained their long-distance correspondence for more than two decades 

84 Charing Cross Road

Dudley Little Theatre


HELENE Hanff's story about her increasingly affectionate correspondence between herself, in New York, and a man in a London bookshop - it lasted more than 20 years - emerges as a joyous duet in Andrew Rock's absorbing production.

At the heart of it are Mary O'Toole, as the ever-lively Helene, and John Lucock, as Frank Doel, the man who gradually moves out of stiff formality - without, however, ever matching the quirky unpredictability of the woman he has never met but who has begun to assume an important part in his daily life.

The suggestion is that the relationship becomes love, but this is not what I gleaned from an excellent first night. Cheeky chit-chat on her part, yes, but nothing to suggest to me that young Cupid had been having some archery practice.

Nevertheless, these are two splendid accounts of a remarkable relationship, hers being by far the bigger role, punctuated by a succession of illuminating moments. "Would you rather be a murderer or a corpse?" "I'm not afraid of flying: I'm afraid of arriving." When faced with imminent dentistry, she reveals it was a case of having her teeth cupped or taken out: "I decided to have them cupped as I'd got used to having teeth."


She is a joy. The fact that she remains throughout, penned upstage in the small corner that represents her apartment, does not prevent her from dominating the stage when we are listening to any of her letters.

John Lucock is Frank Doel, formal, facing up to his unexpected transatlantic correspondence with the air of a man who is always Proper with a capital P, but slowly finding himself relaxing in the face of the unabating chatter that springs out of every envelope he opens. He ages, too, as the action slowly moves from 1949 to 1971, and he becomes visibly more frail, more stiff, more troubled by his general health - which is something of which the sparkling Mary O'Toole never gives a hint.

The central pair have quiet but reliable support from the rest of the company - Sue Hughes, Georgina Lovell, James Silvers, Louise Lammas, Christine Ridgeway and Maurice Felton - but this is essentially a two-hander with others on hand.

There was a first-night surprise when the first two books that Frank Doel picked up, prior to despatching them to Helene, were Reader's Digest Condensed Books, obviously a mite precocious so soon after the Second World War, but this did not detract from a production that has warmth and humanity.

And David Potter, Fred Waller and David Parker have produced a bookshop set that is going to seed quite splendidly. To 11.9.10.

John Slim 

Going for a date in Dudley 01384 872583  Also  request tickets on website PLUS tickets also available from Dudley Council Plus, Castle Street, Dudley. 01384 812812, Books Unlimited, Lower High Street, Stourbridge; Flavell's Butchers, Netherton.

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