Arts Theatre, London – until 2 September 2017
Just transferred from the Jermyn Street theatre to the Arts Theatre, I Loved Lucy is an autobiographical play, adapted from Lee Tannen‘s memoirs about his relationship with cultural icon, Lucille Ball. A massive fan of the comedy star, Tannen uses obscure family ties to meet and form a friendship with Lucy. They bond with stories and fantasies over their games of backgammon as Tannen becomes a close confidant and sees a side of ‘Auntie Mame’ that very few got to see.
As someone who wasn’t alive during any of Ball’s life and who until writing this review, had never seen an episode of I Love Lucy, I don’t suppose I’m the target audience for this play. There were a number of anecdotes and names which meant nothing to me purely because of my age and I felt I was an outsider looking in on the jokes.
However, for all those times I didn’t laugh something else came along which had me in hysterics proving you don’t need to be a Lucy fan to enjoy this show. Tannen’s script is extremely witty and uses repetition extremely well to generate laughs. Alongside the laughs there are also more heartfelt moments, especially in act two when Lucy realises she has peaked and can never achieve the same levels of fame and love again.
Tannen as the narrator is humorous and he doesn’t shy away from showing his dark side as well as Lucy’s but I found it strange at times how closely he paints the relationship. Tannen is shown as being one of Lucy’s only confidants and the only person in her life. With her children and partners barely mentioned I feel that Tannen is a somewhat unreliable source and although it may have been true that Lucy had very few other relationships, it would be interesting to see why the others are so absent.
Sandra Dickinson captures Lucy’s mannerisms and iconic laugh perfectly. She gives a truly wonderful performance and remains committed to the role throughout. Her comedic timing, although sometimes ever so slightly off is good and she delivers Lucy’s slicing asides and witty quips with ease.
As the celebrity obsessed, excitable, Tannen, Matthew Scott is great. He not only plays his main role but a number of smaller roles such as the hotel receptionist and chauffeur where he shows off his versatility well. Dickinson and Scott’s chemistry is great and although the stalkerish fan becoming best friends with the star is kind of strange, it somehow works and comes across in a natural way.
Anthony Biggs’ direction makes good use of the black box Arts Theatre and he is unafraid of stillness for dramatic effect. Gregor Donnelly’s simplistic set design adds just enough drama whilst keeping the flow of the piece.
I Loved Lucy is a joy to watch- great fun with an air of drama, glitz and glam.