|Lucille Desíree Ball|
Lucille Ball starred in I Love Lucy from 1951 to 1960 and in two more successful long-running sitcoms for CBS: The Lucy Show (1962–68) and Here's Lucy (1968–74) - an unparalleled dynasty of sit-com success.
At one point it was calculated that 99% of Americans would recognise her face and that she was bigger than John Lennon (and whoever he was bigger than...). We all not only know Lucy but probably love her too and I can't remember I time when I didn't know who she was.
|Lucy in full flow|
For the last decade of her life, Lucy kept company with a distant cousin of her second husband, Lee Tannen upon who's book and play this production was based. Mr Tannen was on hand to introduce proceedings and, whilst you couldn't judge his backgammon skills, you could see how his wit and good humour would have been welcomed.
Directed by Claudio Macor (The Tailor Made Man and In The Dead of Night reviewed elsewhere on this blog) this was a workshop presentation which as Tannen pointed out, had taken less time ot rehearse than his journey time from the USA.
|Sandra Dickinson and Christopher Tester|
That's not to say that Mr Tester doesn't also give a fine performance and,judging from the photographs Tannen shared after the performance he bears more than a passing resemblance to the author. A boy who knew every single episode of I Love Lucy almost by heart, he first met Lucille aged nine when she married that cousin Gary Morton and was only to meet her again many years later in 1981 when he was working as in theatrical promotion.
|Mr and Mrs Arnaz|
Soon Lee is part time pal and part time PA, booking hotels in New York - anywhere but the Upper West Side - "it's too Lauren Bacall!". He is rewarded with stories of Thelma Todd having an affair with CG (not Clarke but Cary...possibly) and how the former never really recovered from the death of Carol Lombard - "the most beautiful dame I ever saw."
|Ann Miller, Ginger Rogers and Lucy in Stage Door|
|Lucy and Henry in The Big Street|
The play's trick is that it manages to move through the years without sounding like a catalogue and much of this is down to the interplay between the characters as played by Dickinson and Tester as well as the snappy dialogue they have been gifted.
|Bob Hope and Lucy: King and Queen|
But, if the play is this good after only three working day's rehearsals... it's going to be great in full performance. A well-written play about one of the most important cultural figures of the Twentieth Century told with intimacy, style and more than a few laughs.
Who knew, for example,that Shirley MacLaine always referred to Lucille as "Mum" - "maybe in another of her lives?" mused Lucy and, that their attendance at a premier was delayed by Michael Jackson's inconveniently combustible hair: how long does it take to put out a fire on his head pondered Lucy impatiently?
|Lucille in 1988|
Further details of the project are available on Twitter @ILovedLucyUK and Facebook: watch this space...
Key take-away: "Never cut funny".
Silent PS: For various reasons, the I Love Lucy TV show was shot on film and the great German cinematographer Karl Freund worked on episodes from 1951-6 developing processes that would ensure that the lighting would be even over each aspect of the set (and that wouldn't be the only silent film connection from Lucy's life).