84 Charing Cross Road Is A Dead Poet's Book Club

84 Charing Cross Road, Richmond Theatre ★★☆☆☆

By Johnny Fox Last edited 23 months ago

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84 Charing Cross Road Is A Dead Poet's Book Club 84 Charing Cross Road, Richmond Theatre 2
Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

We're not keen on totemic American screen actors indulging themselves on the London stage, but for Stefanie Powers, Robert Wagner's glamorous co-star in Hart to Hart, made a willing exception.

The 'special relationship' between the UK and US may be under strain at the moment but never was it stronger than in 84 Charing Cross Road, a warm-hearted rationing-era story of gnarly chainsmoking American writer Helene Hanff and the London bookshop with which she kept up a highly personal correspondence for twenty years.

Stefanie Powers looks strikingly youthful and agile, but James Roose-Evans' 1981 script and Richard Beecham's direction are as dusty as the shelves of the antiquarian book store itself, and the story just doesn't come off the page. It's also static beyond belief — Powers is trapped in just a few square feet of set, emerging to squawk on cue like a parrot whose cloth has suddenly been whipped off its cage.

The original two-hander has been fleshed out with the staff of the shop who play musical instruments and sing to announce the changing seasons and years. However, the actors have nothing to work with apart from mousy stereotypes who don't seem to age or change in the 20 years' passage of time.

Hart to Hart is getting a reboot with the married sleuths replaced by a wealthy gay couple. 84 Charing Cross Road needs a reboot too — for anyone who knows the book, this could be a sweet saunter down memory lane. For anyone else, it's just a sad episode of Where Are They Now?

84 Charing Cross Road, Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, £16.90-£44.90. Until 16 June (and touring)

Last Updated 12 June 2018