Like most people of my generation, I have vague memories of ‘I Love Lucy’ being shown on television – Sunday afternoon I think. Even though these shows were being broadcast as re-runs, the originals having come out in the 1950s, I still remember laughing out loud with my family at the antics of Lucille Ball and her team. However, apart from this – and once catching a rare showing of ‘Mame’ on television, I never really knew anything about Lucille or her career. However, all that has changed now thanks to the wonderful biopic I Loved Lucy by Lee Tannen on a 4 week run at the Jermyn Street Theatre.
The first thing to be established as the show starts is that Lee (Matthew Bunn) loves Lucy (Sandra Dickinson), well to be honest, that is understatement. Lee worships, adores, venerates – oh you get the picture – Lucy to whom, through her marriage to Gary Morton, he is distantly related. The two of them meet and almost instantly become friends, They spend much of their time together playing backgammon – to which Lucy seems addicted – and eating really bad food, lucy was not a great cook. They talk a lot as well and through these chats, Lee – along with the lucky audience – get to learn so much more about this wonderful lady. Apart from an 18 month period when the two of the fell out, Lee and Lucy remain firm friends for a decade until her death in 1989.
If I wanted a masterclass in how to present a biopic, then I Loved Lucy is the one for me. Right from the start, with Lee giving us a lovely scene-setting opening monologue that enabled the audience to get to know him as a person before the introduction of Lucy herself, I got an immediate warm feeling that Matthew, was really enjoying being Lee and actually had the same genuine affection for Lucy that Lee had. The introduction of Lucy was perfectly timed so that the anticipation which had been building among the audience since the lights went down was fully satisfied upon hearing that gravelly familiar voice followed by the lady herself, a mass of red hair and big glasses. Sandra Dickinson absolutely is Lucy. The voice, the mannerisms, everything is as I remember her and Sandra really dominates the stage even when not there.
However, this is not a one-woman show and both Matthew and Sandra really are gelled together as two actors that are 100% comfortable with their characters and each other. You get the feeling that if one of them completely mucked up the script at some point, the other would find a quick way to support them and brings things back on track.
Lee and Lucy’s story is told in a combination of 4th wall-breaking speeches by Lee and individual scenes between the two characters covering their time together. During the scenes, anecdotes about famous names fall like confetti, including the source of the feud between Richard Burton and Lucy, and we get to learn much about Lucy’s early career and the woman she really was. A normal woman on many respects with the same hopes and fears as the rest of us. Still in love with her ex-husband, and making some wrong career choices. By the end, I wanted to know more – in fact I’ve ordered Lee’s book this morning. My one minor gripe is that, whilst I learnt so much about Lucy, I knew very little about Lee by the end. He had mentioned a boyfriend a couple of times but never really told us anything about himself which was a shame as the relationship between Lee and Lucy was not just one-way so it would have been nice to know more about him. That aside, I really enjoyed I Loved Lucy which Director Anthony Briggs has fitted into the intimate space of the Jermyn Street Theatre perfectly. Gregor Donnelly’s set, dominated by a montage of images forming the word Lucy looks fantastic and is a wonderful reminder of some of Lucy’s best bits.
Invalid Displayed Gallery
All in all then, I Loved Lucy is a wonderful example of how to do a biopic which not only reminds the audience of the personality they loved but really makes them want to know more. In this case, we have a wonderful subject in Lucille Ball and a story written by some who really knew her, that is brought to life by two fantastic actors who are perfect in the roles and who between them produce a fantastic night’s entertainment.
Review by Terry Eastham
I Loved Lucy
Tue, 2nd – Sat, 27th February
Gary DiMauro, Therese Steiner and Showstoppers NY IMG_0616
with Jermyn Street Theatre
in the UK Premiere of
I Loved Lucy
by Lee Tannen
with Matthew Bunn as Lee
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 and Matthew Bunn (The Ladykillers) as Lee. Directed by Jermyn Street Theatre’s Artistic Director Anthony Biggs (The River Line, On Approval, The First Man)
‘The tiny but pioneering Jermyn Street Theatre’
Mark Lawson, The Guardian
Tuesday to Saturday 7.30pm.
Saturday & Sunday matinees 3.30pm
Additional matinee Thursday 25th February 3.30pm.