Being Frank – late cast change doesn’t derail Players’ Charing Cross production

OCCASIONALLY getting a play to stage is more difficult than it looks to a first-night audience (writes Trevor Baxter).

So, take a bow Saddleworth Players for overcoming adversity to ensure this production and adaptation of Helene Hanff’s novel, 84 Charing Cross Road, made a seamless start to its week-long run at the Millgate Arts Centre.

84 Charing Cross Road at the Millgate (Pictures by Stuart Coleman)

The play is a warm, nostalgic and whimsical tale of a Trans-Atlantic relationship between Hanff, an American author and script writer, and Cheshire born Frank Doel, the manager of a London bookshop specialising in antiquarian volumes.

For two decades, the pair corresponded: Hanff from her New York apartment and Doel from the Marks & Co store on Charing Cross Road.

From 1949 to Doel’s death in December 1968, they exchanged countless letters as Hanff’s career rose from struggling unpublished writer to noted author and personality.

At the heart of their correspondence was a love of books. But as their long-distance friendship grew Hanff’s response to receiving  obscure English classics was to send food parcels and gifts during Britain’s recovery from World War Two to Doel, his family and shop staff.

However, when Doel died they had still never met. Tracy Rontree’s portrayal of feisty Hanff and her acerbic wit was captivating and dominated the play, ensuring there was no dust on the narrative, books or letters.

Sharing the spotlight in commendable fashion was Simon Wood. Due to one of a number of changes in cast in the lead up to rehearsals, Simon stepped in with only three weeks’ notice.

It was a challenging assignment, given the amount of dialogue and stage time, but he delivered a sensitive and considered performance to quell any pre play apprehension.

With Rontree and Wood in control the supporting cast of: Verity Mann (Megan Wells/Maxine Stuart), Laura Rothwell (a Millgate debut as Cecily Farr), Colin Watt (William Humphries), Patricia Redshaw (Joan Todd), Chloe Whatmough (young girl) and Keith Begley (Mr Martin) breezed through their roles.

‘84 Charing Cross Road’ will be performed by the Saddleworth Players at the Millgate Arts Centre until November 30.

 Tickets available from the Millgate website (millgateartscentre.co.uk) or by telephoning the box fffice on 01457 874644, Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm.

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