Terry Johnson’s Hitchcock Blonde, currently playing at the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue (having transferred from the Royal Court) is a well-written and entertaining (if at times for me confusing) piece, that makes use of many of the modern day tricks of the theatre. The play considers the famous film director’s infatuation with the vulnerability of blondes, and their portrayal in his work, through the eyes of a contemporary university media studies lecturer Alex (David Haig) and one of his less talented students, Nicola (Fiona Glascott), with whom he, mirroring Hitchcock, is himself infatuated.
The play alternates between David’s present day Greek Island villa to which he has lured Nicola on the pretence that he needs help studying and restoring an ancient, previously unknown piece of Hitchcock’s work, and 1959, as we witness the evolution of the relationship between David and Nicola on the one hand and Hitch (William Hootkins) and his latest Blonde (Rosamund Pike). In both cases, despite an apparent strength of character, the blondes both succumb to the wishes and demands of their male dominators.
The 1959 time windows see the Blonde, so ambitious in her desire to make her name on the big screen, act as body double for Janet Leigh in the famous Psycho shower scene. The 1959 scenario is played out from different perspectives, and offers a platform for some terrific character acting by Hootkins as Hitch, whose representation of the master’s verbose pomposity is marvellous. Equally enjoyable is Fiona Glascott’s performance as the film studies student who is tricked by emotional deception into a brief and passionate affair with her tutor that ultimate results, for some reason, in self-mutilation. And this is perhaps the problem with this production. Whilst the acting and staging of Hitchcock Blonde are terrific (with its very own, highly inventive shower scene), Terry Johnson seems to have been rather self-indulgent, with the action being frightfully drawn out. At least the running time has been cut since the transfer from the Royal Court, however the first half still seems interminable, and could surely suffer some further tightening up without removing any of the impact of the piece.
All that said, this is an original and entertaining evening that I would recommend to anyone, especially fans of Rosie Pike!
Next Review by Alan Bird
from the Royal Court run
5 April 2003
Terry Johnson’s ‘Hitchcock Blonde’ is receiving its world premiere at the Royal Court theatre. Johnson has twice won the Olivier award for Best Comedy for his plays ‘Hysteria’ and ‘Cleo, Camping, Emmanuel and Dick’. I suspect he may be receiving another award for ‘Hitchcock Blonde’, a suspense drama/comedy about unsatisfied desire, murder, mid-life crises and passion.
The story concerns Alex a lecherous media lecturer who claims to be going through a mid-life crisis and seeks solace in the young female students who pass through his media course. When he discovers some old movie reams of Hitchcock’s very early work he persuades Nicola, one of his more vulnerable students to spend her summer vacation with him in Greece working on saving as many frames as possible from the movie reams. What they discover in the frames are pictures of a mysterious blonde woman starring in a movie that Hitchcock never finished.
From this simple beginning a fascinating story begins to unravel of unrequited love and passion. We watch as love and desire change into obsession, hatred, revenge and even homicidal rage.
The stage design by William Dudley is a masterpiece of video technology. Images of a Greek villa and a trailer home, to name a few, are projected on to white screens to create great visual effects. There is also the use of a projector to cast an image of a naked woman onto a flow of water from a shower, capturing the transient nature of the sexual longing that runs throughout this play.
The acting is as mesmerising as the play itself, and all the cast give exceptional performances. Fiona Glascott plays the role of Nicola with energy and zest. Her sharp barbed comments about lascivious old men and “overweight retards from a council home” are delivered with sting and exceptional timing. David Haig is charming and polished and yet also deceitful and cruel as Alex. One does not know whether to despise or pity his character. Alex is consumed by two passions, the first for Hitchcock and his movies, the other for young Blondes.
The attractive Rosamund Pike (of James Bond fame) plays the beautiful captivating ‘Blonde’ a woman who seeks stardom and security. Whether she is stripping to seduce Hitchcock or hitting her husband with an iron, she wraps her character in a naive innocence born out of desperation.
The star of the show is however William Hootkins as ‘Hitch’. Whether he is describing the delights of Dover Sole, swallowing baked custards whole or testing for signs of life by stabbing corpses, he remains impassive throughout. He plods around the stage with arms as stiff as pokers hanging from his sides and his large eyes have an enigmatic gaze. When Blonde tries to seduce him, he shakes with anticipation whilst spurning her advances, stating with the same emotionless voice “To touch is to court disaster”.
A play full of suspense, longing and dark humour!
(Production photos by Gautier Deblonde)
Next Review by Jonathan Richards
Terry Johnson’s new play, Hitchcock Blonde, which receives its premiere at the Royal Court Theatre is the kind of theatrical perfection which feels more like an event than a piece of theatre.
There is William Dudley’s highly inventive and clever design which makes extraordinary use of video and computer projection and the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs’ small stage.
There is the sublime acting from the entire cast (William Hootkins as Hitch and Fiona Glascott as Nicola are particularly noteworthy.) And there is Terry Johnson’s original, intelligent and witty script (which he also directs with detail and a flair for humour).
They all combine to form a unique, thought-provoking, funny and touching work of art. Unmissable.
PETER HEPPLE for THE STAGE says, "The plotting is often puzzling but there is plenty of entertainment among the thrills" MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "It pleasurably combines Hitchcock's eerie romanticism with a study in erotic obsession." CHARLES SPENCER for DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "It's ambitious, ingenious and intriguing." PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, "This is an ambitious project, but not a patch on Johnson's greatest hits." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Prepare yourself for plenty of educated fun." DOMINIC MAXWELL for TIME OUT says, "Dazzlingly clever and often wonderfully funny."
External links to full reviews from popular press