Sunday, 7 February 2016

Review I Loved Lucy

I Loved Lucy
by Lee Tannen

Queen of Comedy
Back in the day TLT faintly recalls as a tot enjoying the slapstick in reruns of sitcom I Love Lucy. It was part of the strange glamour mingled with down-to-earth accessibility of Americana seeping on to British commercial TV. 

And for TLT it had a kindred spirit in the copies of "Jack and Jill" TLT'S great aunt (her grandmother's sister-in-law) sent over from New York with one particularly memorable story of the little boy who despaired of needing nerdy glasses until he saw a native American Red Indian chieftain in full headdress wearing - yes! - a pair of spectacles. 

But enough of TLT!

For this is a review of I Loved Lucy, an American play, written by and based on Lee Tannen's memoir of his father's cousin's wife's brother's wife, Lucille Ball.

Tannen presents himself as tongue-tied fan, an escort of, a backgammon player with, bathed in the aura of, estranged from and finally reconciled with the redheaded icon and TV pioneer in this canter through the years between 1960 and her death in 1989.

After the opening strains of Frank Sinatra singing "How Little We Know" drift away, theatre ad copywriter Tannen creates a world where sitcom and life merge together in a portrait of the actress filtered through the character of - er -   Lee Tannen. 

The stage Lee is played by an expressive Matthew Bunn in a clever hall of mirrors' script reflecting on a celebrity in the family, the nature of fandom and the need to earn a living. The stage Tannen may have aspired to the character played in the 1950s by William Holden in Sunset Boulevard  but he slips by tiny increments towards King of Comedy's 1980s' Rupert Pupkin.    

Meanwhile Sandra Dickinson's more deliberately naturalistic performance as the star of sitcom and sponsorship herself in her last years is a true revelation. She inhabits the tracksuits and personality of the model turned Hollywood B-actress turned everybody's favourite sitcom wife and mom as if a tailor-made role for her.  

We can take what Lucille's sidekick says about her at face value or we can read between the lines. Or we can value what Lucille says about herself. Especially when for a moment she grasps the narration from Lee and guides the play in a new direction near its denouement.

All of which is staged with skilful understatement by director Anthony Biggs. Matched too by the equally skilful set design of Gregor Donnelly backing the two players with large three dimensional letters - L-U-C-Y - filled with black and white press cuttings. A heart, which also graced I Love Lucy's opening credits, doubles up as a suspended screen for evocative images of Lucille and her entourage. 

Yep, we loved this Lucy - a carefully crafted play written with heart and something to impart, meticulously acted and directed. 

And TLT has even managed to find a connection between Jack and Jill and I Love Lucy. 

An early contributor to the kids' magazine was Pearl S Buck who also wrote The Good Earth, turned into a movie filmed by cameraman Karl Freund whom Lucille's then husband Desi Arnaz brought in to film the innovative recordings of I Love Lucy for their Desilu production company. 

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