I Loved Lucy at Jermyn Street Theatre
From his bestselling memoir, Lee Tannen’s play I Loved Lucy is a moving portrayal of his deep friendship with comedian Lucille Ball, his “gay icon”. Directed by Jermyn Street Theatre’s artistic director Anthony Biggs, this two-person play is a foray into the private world of the TV star of I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball. In a tiny retro-style theatre, the set consists of a collage of black-and-white shots of Lucille Ball, a large I Love Lucy heart, and a table and chairs with a game board.
Tannen’s script is sharp, touching and very funny. He understands comedy, and delivers an apt depiction of Lucille Ball’s style. Sandra Dickinson gives a brilliant and touching performance as the feisty and funny, bold and outrageous Lucy, and her new co-star, Stefan Menaul, is on the mark and very entertaining as the likeable and witty Lee Tannen.
Tannen describes a childhood obsession with the TV show star of I Love Lucy that pervaded his life; to him, Lucy is an enigma. Having met her as a boy, years later they began a close friendship from 1980 until Lucy’s death in 1989. The depth of their bond was perhaps cemented by Lucy’s unequivocal acceptance of Tannen’s homosexuality, undisclosed to his own mother (also a Lucy with red hair).
We are privy to the private side of Lucy as we witness scenes from their relationship. She is his Auntie Mame. The two spend much time together playing backgammon (“you cheat like Dianne Warwick”, she teases) and engaging in humorous and insightful banter and anecdotes: “Loved Lombard (Carol Lombard), I miss her”, “Joan Crawford, what a bitch”, “Bette Davis, she frightened me”. About Desi Arnaz, “I thought I could change Desi, make him stop embarrassing me”.
Particularly poignant is Lucy’s unhappiness with herself and her career, despite her universal popularity – “Oh God, I’m so tired of being me,” – and the emotion of Tannen’s grief after Lucy dies. Yet even then, the two are together playing backgammon. Lucy quips “I’m seeing that Desi again, I’m still in love with that SOB.”
For those born after the 70s or 80s, Lucille Ball’s fame might not ring a bell, but many of us have parents who were fans and the TV show I Love Lucy is a classic. With excellent acting, writing and direction, I Loved Lucy is affectionate, witty and highly entertaining.
I Loved Lucy is on at Jermyn Street Theatre from 6th until 23rd April 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch actor Lee Tannen speak about I Loved Lucy here:
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