I Loved Lucy, at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 23rd April, is a personal tale of a fan’s relationship with America’s sweetheart Lucille Ball. Lee is very distantly related to his idol and is delighted when a friendship develops between the pair.
Written by Lee Tannen the play is based on Tannen’s 2001 memoir of his friendship with Ball. The play is a two-hander but perhaps the play would have been more successful if Lucy had not appeared on stage and the play had remained a recollection by the writer Lee. Because this is not a play about Lucille Ball, but a play about the obsessive, self-obsessed character of Lee. The appearance of Lucille Ball on stage conflicts the audience. The story of Lucille Ball would be fascinating if we didn’t have Lee leading the conversations, desperate for Hollywood gossip. He is more interested in learning who else cheats at Backgammon and who slept with whom in Hollywood than engaging meaningfully with his new friend. The play relies too much on anecdotes.
Stefan Menaul plays Lee. Initially nervous meeting his idol, Menaul’s Lee evolves from shy through chatty and gossipy to self-obsessed and rude. The standout performance though is from Sandra Dickinson who plays Lucy. It is her performance which saves this play and will add an extra star or two to any review of I Loved Lucy. She is remarkable and entirely convincing as the ageing, tired star who occasionally sparkles and twinkles as she interacts with Lee over a game of her beloved backgammon.
The show is well directed by the experienced Anthony Biggs. As ever, Biggs injects a good pace into the script. The production is polished and well executed.
Gregor Donnelly, the designer, makes good use of the stage at the wide Jermyn Street Theatre. Large letters spelling out ‘Lucy’ stand at the back of the stage and photographs of the different locations in the story are projected onto a large suspended heart downstage. The props are scarce and the action often takes place around a backgammon table. There are several costume changes but Lucy most often appears in a slouchy tracksuit (when she dies, her ‘ghost’ appears, a bit too predictably, in a white tracksuit) a world away from the glamour of her earlier years. Dickinson appears in a cheap ginger wig (dear costume designer, if the show returns, please invest in a more believable weave.)
The play is too long. It runs at 1hr and 55 mins including an interval. The story would be better served if it lost some scenes. Despite the excellent direction, the show would be much improved if it ran at around 60 minutes. I think there is a good show in here but even on its third outing (with cuts and edits each time) it still needs a re-write.
Review by Laura-Jane Foley
Gary DiMauro, Therese Steiner and Showstoppers NY in association
with Jermyn Street Theatre present Sandra Dickinson in the return of:
I Loved Lucy
by Lee Tannen
Directed by Anthony Biggs
Designed by Gregor Donnelly
Lighting Design by Charlie Lucas
Make a Person Laugh Enough Times, You’re Loved Forever
I Loved Lucy is a personal portrait of an iconic comedic entertainer whose public face is all too well known. But what was Lucille Ball really like and how did she choose to live her life…at the end of her life? Out of the spotlight.
Based on his memoir, Lee Tannen’s funny, bitter-sweet play reveals the real life Lucy and what is was like being her friend to the end.
Starring Sandra Dickinson (A Streetcar Named Desire, Not about Nightingales, Orpheus Descending) as Lucy. Directed by Jermyn Street Theatre’s Artistic Director Anthony Biggs (The River Line, On Approval, The First Man)
I Loved Lucy
Wed, 6th – Sat, 23rd April