84 Charing Cross Road

Bravely (or foolishly, they can be much the same) I agreed to direct Theatre At Baddow’s January 2010 production. The director gets to choose the play, the Committee decide whether you should be allowed to go ahead and spend their money.

I chose “84 Charing Cross Road” due to its small cast, relatively static set and minimal scene changes and I’d read the book on which the play is based in my teens. Not that I was expecting it to be easy, but I thought it would be quite straightforward. But dear God, no-one mentioned the props. The props, bloody hell. There were loads of them, not least the number of books needed… If I’d known how many props were required, I’d have demanded the cast learn to juggle. As it was Jo Windley-Poole tackled the mind-boggling task of sourcing books, from the set-dec books to actual copies of the books named in the text and working out when and where duplicate copies were needed. I felt an enormous sense of pride over much of our attention to detail, though I’m sure the audience never even noticed – We bought some pre-decimal stamps for the letters, created replicas of the Marks & Co invoices and sourced a genuine September 1948 “Saturday Review Of Literature”. I’m sure no-one could tell that “my” Helene was handling a REAL copy of Walton’s Lives, but the actors knew and I believe little things like that go some way to helping performances.

Anyway, rather than paraphrase my experience again here, I’ll include the “Director’s Notes” I wrote for the play’s programme:

Thank you for coming to see Theatre At Baddow’s latest play. I do hope you enjoy watching it as much as I have enjoyed directing it.

This is my fourth show with TaB and my first show ever as a Director. I’d previously only stuck to – and thoroughly enjoyed – the acting side of drama group membership. It’s also the first time that I’ve felt comfortable enough with a group to even consider directing, so a huge thank you to TaB, not least for having enough faith to let me try!

It’s been a fascinating, exciting and steep learning curve for me and frankly, having had no experience in this area, I suspect I’ve been guilty of directing with my heart rather than my head. Fortunately, 84 Charing Cross Road has a lot of heart and I hope my approach has been successful.

I chose this play thinking that it would be suitable for a first-time Director – Helpfully, the directions in the script were very detailed; even the music was carefully chosen by the book’s adaptor James Roose-Evans. That’s not to say there wasn’t room for some creative freedom! Despite the comprehensive information however, Directors will always find something to worry about and if I have one more dream about stationery I might never enter a WH Smith again.

 84 Charing Cross Road is a gentle but heartfelt tale – There are no moments of high drama, no fights, no car chases… Just a story about a transatlantic friendship shared over two decades and the pleasure of receiving beautiful old books. For that reason, it needs a sterling cast to carry what at times is a very bookish, if you’ll pardon the pun, script. I’m delighted that I was lucky enough to get one and they have made directing them the easiest and most enjoyable part of the process.

There will never be another play like 84 Charing Cross Road – At least, not set in the 21st century. You can order books or anything else online without any sort of human contact. No longer are letters carefully written and eagerly anticipated over days and weeks. An email, though instant, isn’t tangible and is rarely treasured. This play is a reminder to treasure that contact and those friendships, whether long distance or close by.