I Loved Lucy review - July 2017

"a sweet homage to her character"

“You really have to love yourself to get anything in this world done” – it’s true, and Lee Tannen’s newish play I Loved Lucy proves that Lucille Ball, one of comedy’s greatest clowns, got plenty done through a whole lot of self-love. A charming homage to the late star, created by self-professed best friend and occasional confidante Tannen, it’s a tame dose of embellished anecdotes, and you can never quite grasp the aim of the play.

After marrying into Tannen’s family, the I Love Lucy fanatic relished his chance to form a close bond with the icon, feeling entirely privileged throughout the whole process – an unequal friendship, it could be viewed, with Lucille on the highest of pedestals. With a relationship cemented, the two enjoyed decades of close partnership, with Lee admittedly neglecting his own New York life for her sake.

But, as is obvious, Lucy's charm was an undeniable draw. I Loved Lucy makes it abundantly clear that the sheer magnetism of her character was enough to keep anyone hooked. There’s potentially too few references to her 60's sitcom, and all too many to her bumped-up attitude, but Sandra Dickinson's drawling portrayal is spot-on, packing in enough flair to make it obvious exactly why everyone really did love Lucy.

Matthew Scott’s portrayal of Lee is effortlessly charming, and despite pacing issues with a few monologues, his apt narration captures the audience easily. His moments of confession are themselves a tad too self-indulgent, as though clawing at some of Lucy’s limelight; his reveals about his own character cause the story to become a little tangled – is he attempting a great revelation about himself or focusing on the friendship between the pair?

It's not the smoothest-running of shows either. Yvonne Gilbert's static soundtrack is ill-placed and hinders rather than helps the story. There's a few erratic blackouts and Anthony Biggs' direction makes it difficult to tell if the story is a reverential chat show or a confessional hotel room. Blurring the fourth wall is more than fine, but it needs to be clearer that this is a choice.

In all honesty, if you don't know who Lucille Ball is, you probably won't be seeing the production – but if you don't know who she is, it's wise to brush up on your culture. She's portrayed fondly here; her broad career is covered, whilst her diva attitude is terribly endearing. It's a sweet homage to her character, but there are too many glitches to make it the perfect tribute.

Reviewed by Susannah Rose Martin.
24 July 2017, Arts Theatre