I Loved Lucy – Arts Theatre until 2nd September
Review By Terry Eastham
One of the most difficult things for an actor to be asked to do is to play an icon, whether living or dead. No matter how the actor may be able to portray every facet of the individual there will always be some who say it’s not right and it will be impossible to please everyone in their portrayal. However, at the Arts Theatre, you will find an actor who is her subject to the tee as Lee Tannen’s lovely two-hander I Loved Lucy returns to London.
Photos by Alessia Chinazzo
Based on Lee’s book of the same name, the story follows the relationship of Lee (Matthew Scott) and his idol Lucille Ball (Sandra Dickinson) in the last ten years of Lucy’s life. She may no longer have been a massive film and television star but Lucy was still a Hollywood star and Lee had a wonderfully close relationship with her. Lucy is everything Lee hoped she would be. Warm, friendly, feisty and with a head full of Hollywood anecdotes. Lee really does fall for Lucy – in a chaste gay man/screen icon manner – and she feels the same for him. As they sit and play backgammon hour after hour, Lucy and Lee escape to a world that is their own. Even a massive fight cannot part them forever and the two of them share stories, secrets, hopes and dreams as Lucy gets older and more vulnerable.
I saw this show when it was originally on and loved it so much, I bought the book. The affection Lee had for Lucy comes across in every page and this has been translated extremely well for the stage. Director Anthony Biggs keeps the movement pretty low key and allows the personalities and words to shine through.
Matthew Scott, making his West End debut, brings Lee to life beautifully. From a young 10-year-old, totally overawed at meeting his heroine, through to the first meeting as adults, when, somehow, Lee finds himself so relaxed that he tells Lucy he is gay – something he hasn’t told anyone else, Matthew makes Lee a real person. So real, that I wish I had been around then to meet him – a handsome gay single Jewish boy, my mother would have been over the moon.
“Sandra Dickinson IS Lucy!”
As wonderful as Matthew is, the evening really belongs to Sandra. She really is Lucy. The voice, the mannerisms and the highly infectious laugh are all there. There is more to the performance than this though. There are the Lucy costumes – great work from Designer Gregor Donnelly, especially the stunning ‘Oscars’ outfit – and the looks that she gives to Lee as he does or says something iffy. I’ve been watching some Lucy on YouTube – the “Lucille Ball in Vitameatavegamin” segment – whilst writing this and it could be a younger Sandra I’m watching just as last night, it really was Lucy up on that stage.
So, we have two great actors who have brought their characters beautifully from page to stage, and have established what feels like a wonderful relationship between them. The wonderfully warm chemistry between the two actors is so palpable that you could imagine they are having the same relationship Lee and Lucy had originally.
Ultimately, I Loved Lucy is a really fascinating glimpse into the life of one of the all time icons, seen from the viewpoint of a young man who was in love with her. Like Lucy herself, the story makes you laugh, cry and feel every emotion in between. I enjoyed every minute, and could have easily sat through another hour or so of the two of them. As a production, the show works extremely well both in concept and execution. Excellent writing delivered by two amazing actors mean that the audience is hooked from the get-go and by the end, every one of them has been on a fabulous journey with Lee and his icon.
And Finally …….
There is a line in the play when Lucy says to Lee something like ‘you think by watching reruns of ‘I Love Lucy’ I will never die’ well, thanks to reruns, YouTube and the love of Lee himself, Lucy may have died but she will never be forgotten.