I think like many British people of a certain age I know Lucy but lack of constant re-runs in the UK means I don’t love her. I do know she paved the way for many female comics and was a grafter who had been in the business for 20+ years before finding success with her own TV sitcom.
I Loved Lucy is an account from Lee Tannen, a distant relative through her second marriage, he got to know Lucy in her final decade. I am always cynical about these memoirs from people you have never heard of about people you have. Tannen’s adaptation doesn’t paint him as the perfect friend but a man who was close, sometimes closer than family. It helps that Matthew Scott’s portrayal is warm and funny, I particularly loved when he took on other roles in the story-Gary Morton, her husband and a very strung out Liza Minnelli. Tannen is a man coming out of the other side; he married a woman and is now happily living with a man. Lucille is very a surrogate mother, she is comfortable with his homosexuality (though there is a shocking scene which reveals Lucille’s attitude to AIDS) and trusts him. It is constantly implied that Ball doesn’t trust many people.
Sandra Dickinson, who returns to the role after two runs at Jermyn Street Theatre, is a revelation as the husky Lucy; a woman approaching the end and still pining after Desi Arnaz, who let her down time and time again but also made her the star. Her performance felt like a belated audition for the Golden Girls, there were rumours Ball turned it down. This is play is ultimately a series of anecdotes and played by lesser actors it would feel dull and repetitive. Hardcore Lucy fans won’t learn anything new and the exposition, whilst often useful such as the story of Lucy’s disastrous return to sitcom Life With Lucy on ABC, can grate a little. It has all the makings of a hit stage show, fun stories; quite campy and characters you care about.
The biggest shame is that apart from a large, brightly coloured Lucy sign and some great lighting design by Tim Mascall it doesn’t embrace the Arts Theatre space. Anthony Bigg’s direction is clear but it could have made more of the large space, with much of action focused on tables or on the corner of the stage.
The lack of conflict does not make this your typical high stakes drama but the chemistry between Dickinson and Scott makes up for that and it is fantastic look at the power celebrities had during the eighties, where talent took priority and gossip was just a bit classier.