84, Charing Cross Road is based on the book by the same name, in which Helene Hanff chronicles her friendship with a London, antiquarian, bookstore keeper over 20 years. The book was adapted for the stage by James Roose-Evans and is put on by the Langham Court Theatre until Oct. 20th, directed by Sylvia Rhodes. The play is particularly, appropriately titled as Langham Court celebrates 84 years of entertaining Greater Victoria; the longest running community theater in western Canada.
The play takes place between the Marks & Co.’s, London bookstore and the New York apartment of Helen Hanff just as England is recovering from WWII. Not exactly a time period we connect with humor, but you’re in for a hilarious treat. Jennifer Hoener plays Helen Hanff and is witty and sharp. Her zingers paired with her New Yorker accent have the audience in consistent stitches. For a sense of Hanff’s humor, she once submitted an extra invoice of $40 after writing a synopsis for The Lord of the Rings for “mental torture”.
Hanff and Frank Doel’s [Roger Carr] correspondence through the decades is made possible by a truly beautiful set featuring both the New York apartment and the London bookstore. The use of letter writing will have you discussing modes of communication, now and then, long after the play is over. The intimacy of snail-mail as opposed to Email, Tweets and Facebook updates is undeniable. The anticipation of receiving a letter, opening and unfolding it and seeing actual handwriting is quickly disappearing. One can’t help but wonder what, if anything, is being lost.
The play begins with a letter from Hanff seeking a book of some description from the bookstore in London rather than seeking it out herself. Her disdain for the craftsmanship of American books and desire to keep the price of her purchases low gradually give way to a deepening relationship between Hanff, Doel and the others in the bookstore. The letters accompany holiday parcels and contain discussion of joys and woes as England recovers from WWII through the 1953 coronation and the rise of the Beatles. With plans for a visit to England thwarted at every turn, the two friends continue their letter writing, Hanff always on the hunt for this version or that of an author’s work.
When the play is finished you’ll likely be struck by how quickly it went by considering the action of the story does not deviate from the oration of sent and received letters. The supporting cast does a great job of creating movement on the stage, grounding us in the moment. Some of the literary references may be lost, but the jokes attached still translate. More serious moments in the play don’t quite rise to the occasion, but they are more than made up for with humor. A great start to what is sure to be another entertaining season. If you haven’t been to Langham Court it’s an experience not to be missed. Tucked away the theatre rises from a residential setting and boasts a warm reception area and lovely theatre. For more information visit www.langhamtheatre.ca or call 250-384-2142.
By Colin Cayer