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A CurtainUp London Review
---The Original Review ---
Hitchcock Blonde has something for everyone. It is part mystery story, part history, mining Stephen Poliakov's territory of exploring the twentieth century through film, part dreamscape, part social comedy, part modern and not so modern relationship drama. Terry Johnson has devised this complex and exquisitely staged play which he has also directed. The play absorbs us from the first moments when that very dated and overly dramatic 1950s film music captures us and a giant clapper board fills the black and white stage.
The two story threads are set forty years apart. In fact there are three, but only 1999 and 1959 are staged. We see 1919 in a few rescued fragments of celluloid and on video. In 1999 Alex (David Haig), Englishman and forty something lecturer in Media Studies, invites his young student Nicola (Fiona Glascott) to spend the summer on a Greek island. The project he has in mind is to investigate some reels of very ancient film rescued from the Gainsborough Studios in London, which was an important movie studios in the first half of the twentieth century. The play explores the relationship between Alex and Fiona, between middle-aged man and vulnerable girl, mentor and neophyte, as they share the excitement of discovery of fragments of film and indulge in a holiday romance. In 1959 in America we see encounters between the monumental and inscrutable, Alfred Hitchcock, film director (William Hootkins) and an intelligent, blonde actress (Rosamund Pike) who hopes that a starring role in a Hitchcock movie will rescue her from poverty and an excruciating marriage to the man played by Owen McDonnell. In the event she finds a Hitchcockesque solution.
Johnson's dialogue is superb and there are many witty one liners. Alex's chat up lines are nonpareil, "You are my faltering desire . . . made flesh. I would surrender all the dull hours of my future for one moment's intimacy with you." Alex's desperation to persuade Nicola to stay after a botched seduction leads to his faking a letter from a hospital indicating that he has terminal cancer. This single act switches the sexual balance of power in his favour so that he spends the second half of the play trying to extricate himself from the situation he once so desired.
I think Terry Johnson is exploring the blend of sex and fantasy and film. Alex doesn't want a real relationship, he wants perfection, a heightened film moment.
The relationship between Hitchcock and the blonde is also based on sex but different. Her beauty, her desirability is obvious but the boorish and socially turgid Hitchcock is unmoved as he pontificates on how to debone a Dover sole with no vestige of charm, humanity or vulnerability. His interest in her is not sexual, it is professional. His focus is his art. I was less captivated by the crime fantasy scenes, where the Blonde presents Hitch with a larger representation of body parts than the ear he was famously sent through the post. Terry Johnson addresses the enigma of Hitchcock's fascination with blonde actresses -- Kim Novak, Janet Leigh, Tippi Hedren, Grace Kelly. As Fiona says, "They weren't real blondes you know. He didn't want a real one. He wanted them all chemicall treated. He had them developed."
William Hootkin's impersonation of Hitch is uncany; it is mesmerising and makes you shudder at the same time. Whether he is swallowing a baked custard whole by sucking it off the plate or listing his instructions for the shots of the blonde being stabbed in the famous Psycho shower scene, he is convincing and repulsive. He has the the delivery and tact of a large truck. It reminded me that you do not have to admire the man to admire his work.
I loved David Haig's hapless, apologetic lecturer, the man who admits he doesn't expect Nicola to fancy him but was hoping she might feel some compassion for him. Haig's self effacing, wry humour, his vanity as he shaves his age to 46 (and seventeen months) and of course his ultimate love rat persona as he dumps Nicola, make me think no other man could play this part as well.
Fiona Glascott's chirpy, noisily enthusiastic Nicola starts a little shrill but her instability is a part of the plot and I found the early shrillness made me believe in her insecurity. Rosamund Pike, one of the latest Bond girls, learnt her stagecraft in student theatre at Oxford University. She has had several high profile television roles, and is a leading lady of the future. She has an unusual look, coolly blonde but with expressive dark eyes which give her a mystical beauty and divide her from the merely pretty. Her role requires her to recount to her husband her erotic observation of the male film crew as she discovers the power of her nudity on the set. I wondered whether my colleague Charlie Spencer of The Telegraph would be thinking of reusing his famous "pure theatrical Viagra" quote?
William Dudley's staging and Simon Corder's lighting have to be on the short list for awards in 2003. The giant sprocket holes, the monochrome set, the giant film spot lights, the flickering Greek backdrop, at night more moonscape than moonlit, reminding us that this play is about film. The scene where the blonde's husband sits motionless, his cigarette smoke lit and curling white against the black backdrop, made me think of Brando playing Stanley Kowalski. The reclaimed transparencies which seem to relate to Hitchcock's first blonde are projected on the back screen as they are discussed. An amazing effect allows, I think a video projection, but it appears as a hologram of Nicola showering in Alex's imagination only for her to melt away as he tries to hold her. The restaurant scenes place Hitchcock on a lavatory instead of a chair like a Magritte painting, an indication that these scenes from 1959 may be dreams.
Nicola's last words to Alex "A lifetime of being looked at instead of loved" returns to Johnson's theme of real life and life in the movies. I think that there is so much in Hitchcock Blonde that I find already I want to see it again. I believe I may have the opportunity as it deserves to transfer both to the West End and to Broadway . . . or it might come full circle and be made into a movie.
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Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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