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|A CurtainUp Review
The Seven Year Itch
By Lizzie Loveridge
A plentiful waste of time ---Richard
So says the character Richard at the end of the first half of George Axelrod’s play The Seven Year Itch and I was inclined to agree with him. He is of course talking about the failure of his attempted seduction of the girl upstairs after his wife and children have left him for the summer in the heat of Manhattan. This play was revived by the film director Michael Radford as (quoting from his notes in the programme “the perfect vehicle” for Daryl Hannah to “show her talents as a comedienne”. The programme is slightly vague, but I think Ms. Hannah had not acted on a professional stage before, although she has of course appeared in numerous films. It was whilst working with Radford on Dancing at the Blue Iguana, a totally improvised movie, that this debut on the London stage was inspired. Hannah needed the services of Paul McKenna, a hypnotist to overcome stage fright.
In outline, 38 year old publisher Richard (Rolf Saxon) stays in New York alone for the first time in seven years of marriage. A falling plant from upstairs narrowly misses him when it lands on the balcony and leads to him meeting the occupant of the apartment upstairs. She is 22 years old, a dizzy blonde actress, innocent and provocative and very attractive (you guessed it, played by Daryl Hannah). He is tempted. He fantasises that his wife Helen (Debora Weston) is seeing another man and uses this to justify cheating on his wife with the girl. Much of the play is his thoughts, imaginary scenarios played out by the cast but using lighting to differentiate them from reality. At the end of the play he dashes off to see his wife.
The 1950's play is a creaky old vehicle. Attitudes about relationships and sex have so changed in the last half century that what might have been outspoken in 1950 is commonplace now. Someone in the play describes 31 as being “past it”; hollow laughter was the audience response. It is hard to believe that many men would refuse the charms of Daryl Hannah if they were offered with no strings, but where is the interesting story in that? One of the problems is that much of the play is monologue from Richard as he thinks out loud -- there is little room for the development of characterisation. The second half of the play is more worthwhile than the first but it barely raises more than a polite titter of laughter.
Daryl Hannah does a credible vocal impression of Marilyn Monroe, the actress who played the character known only as “The Girl” in the film. She certainly sounds like Monroe and for the first half hour or so all we hear is her voice. When she does make an entrance it is to play a fantasy tango scene as Richard muses what it would be like to be an eye patched suave seducer of a femme fatale complete with a risqué and very revealing black lace outfit. Later she comes in as "herself” in some wonderful Fifties outfits (the pink polka dot dress is a classic). Very tall, she looks the part in her tousled blonde wig. She is certainly very attractive but seems missing the Monroe erotic charm. Or maybe it's the ability to laugh at herself. Maybe it is plain nerves. Rolf Saxon as Richard is never off stage and while he's is a trooper doesn’t have the charisma to hold the play together. The main contribution of Debora Weston as the wife and a succession of girls who have made advances to Richard is that they all look like fashion plates from 1950's Vogue.
The box set with the apartment cut away to show the Manhattan skyscrapers and Richard’s balcony neither feels hot or conveys the bustle of a big city. Daryl Hannah approaches the small fan and undoes her tied shirt to cool herself which is the nearest we get to the film's pleated skirt in the subway. Worst of all, I did not give a damn what happened to any of these characters.