theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…
Terry Johnson has had phenomenal success dealing with some of the great icons of the twentieth century. From putting Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein in a room together to dissecting the meaning of Morecambe and Wise and Benny Hill, he has done more than flirt with sacred cows, he has virtually barbecued them for dramatic, as well as comic, effect. Now, he goes for one of the untouchables of cinema, a true behemoth, Alfred Hitchcock.
Hitch was as British as fish and chips, yet spent the bulk of his career making movies in Hollywood. It is no surprise that an American plays the director and a modern English rose portrays the atypical blonde that featured so heavily in many of his later, and some would say, greater works: Tippi, Kim and the ice maiden herself, Grace Kelly, whose penchant for an English accent predates Gwyneth Paltrow by decades. All those women packed sex appeal like James Bond packs heat.
It is also no surprise that one of the more recent Bond girls, Rosamund Pike, has become a Hitchcock blonde. The Oxford-educated daughter of opera singing parents has eschewed the temptation to go Stateside for the moment and is embodying those legendary actresses from Janet Leigh to Eva Marie Saint. Even a little sliver of Monroe sneaks under the theatrical radar. Many might suspect Marilyn had been a Hitchcock blonde, but she never was. This is one of many red herrings in Hitchcock Blonde, as the action switches swiftly and effortlessly between the near present and the past — or is it imagination?
Terry Johnson is reunited with designer William Dudley and actor David Haig from earlier Johnson productions. For such an ambitious project, clearly some hands were needed as the level of technology from vintage footage to virtual reality computer graphics are used sparingly to guide us round Haig’s lecturer Alex and Hitch himself.
Do not take Auntie Phyllis or others of a nervous disposition — sure, there are plenty of laughs but these merely help to highlight the dark underbelly of Hitchcock’s cinematic world. It is a subtle take on the battle of the sexes and sexual politics in the Western world. How things have changed and how things have resolutely stayed the same.
The dénouement leaves the audience with nearly as many questions begging as at the start though in a good way. Johnson clearly relates to the women: Pike’s blonde could so easily have ended up as an empty cipher for the way men control women but as with Hitchcock’s work itself there is more than meets the eye.
Fiona Glascott as Nicola, the media student who travels to a remote Greek island to work on a recently discovered Hitchcock relic, also displays a feistiness that belies the innate voyeurism that could easily have broken the back of such a drama.
Perhaps Hitchcock Blonde is little more than a curate’s egg with the parts greater than the whole, but it is a largely entertaining evening that uses technology to aid the story rather than replace it, something that modern Hollywood never does!
The quiet man at the heart of the emotional maelström, past and present, is the wonderful, comic figure of William Hootkins. Literally a hoot as Hitch (who regularly appeared as a cameo in his own movies) Hootkins gives no glib impression here. The late director has been resurrected for the purpose of confronting the essence of his voyeurism — and our own!
At first it may appear a perverse decision to make a play about a film director but as with his stage adaptation of The Graduate and his own work, Terry Johnson succeeds where so many come close or fail altogether.
Howard Watson © June 2003
Hitchcock Blonde opened at the Lyric Theatre on 25-06-03 and continued until 30-09-03.
Originally published 02-07-03
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