Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

I Loved Lucy

Lee Tannen
Jermyn Street Theatre

Sandra Dickinson as Lucille Ball and Matthew Bunn as Lee Tannen Credit: Scott Rylander
Sandra Dickinson as Lucille Ball Credit: Scott Rylander
Matthew Bunn as Lee Tannen Credit: Scott Rylander

A tongue-tied ten-year-old Lee Tannen was already a fan of US comedy star Lucille Ball and her TV sit-com when her marriage to a cousin (several times removed) meant he met her.

Nearly twenty-five years later, he got to know her properly and for the last decade of her life they were close friends meeting in Manhattan or California to play backgammon (her passion) together.

After her death, Tannen wrote a memoir about their friendship and this is his dramatisation of the memories that book recorded presented as a succession of meetings at that backgammon table introduced and explained by his younger self.

That isn’t the stuff of great drama and it may not sound very theatrical but it works a treat and is extraordinarily funny and, especially after the interval, very touching.

There is a freshness and honesty about the writing that is instantly engaging and Sandra Dickinson as Lucy and Matthew Bunn as Lee make every line. As for not being dramatic, quite apart from the comedy there is sudden hiatus and plenty of pathos.

Anthony Biggs stages it very simply: Gregor Donelly’s setting of the backgammon table and a couple of chairs in front of the letters of LUCY outlined in lights and covered with a montage of her portraits, magazine covers and snaps of the two of them. The emphasis is all on the playing and he gets great performances from both of them.

I must have seen I Love Lucy at some time (I’m old enough, and it’s had reruns) though it is not something I really remember: but you don’t have to have been a fan to enjoy this.

The gravelly voice with which Sandra Dickinson plays Lucy, the wig, the sunglasses and the dress sense may all be closely based on the real lady, but the important thing is that she makes you believe in this character, whoever she is, and so does Matthew Bunn’s camp, slightly gawky Lee in the way he builds up a relaxed rapport with the audience. Relaxed? well, not quite—but that’s part of the characterisation.

This is a beautiful partnership, a joy to watch and great fun.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton