Double Feature

John Logan
Hampstead Theatre
Hampstead Theatre

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Rowan Polonski as Michael Reeves, Jonathan Hyde as Vincent Price, Joanna Vanderham a Tippi Hedren and Ian McNeice as Alfred Hitchcock Credit: Manuel Harlan
Jonathan Hyde as Vincent Price Credit: Manuel Harlan
Jonathan Hyde as Vincent Price and Rowan Polonski as Michael Reeves Credit: Manuel Harlan
Joanna Vanderham as Tippi Hedren and Ian McNeice as Alfred Hitchcock Credit: Manuel Harlan
Joanna Vanderham a Tippi Hedren Credit: Manuel Harlan

It is 1967, and someone is out in the rain knocking on the door of a timber-beamed cottage in Suffolk. It is actor Vincent Price turning up for dinner and a showdown with Michael Reeves, tyro director of Witchfinder General, the film they are on location shooting.

Three years earlier and half a world away in Los Angeles, Alfred Hitchcock is shooting Marnie and has invited his female star Tippi Hedren for dinner in his quarters on the Universal lot, which were built to his specification to look like a very similar country cottage.

These cottages could be the same place, and that is the gimmick of John Logan’s new play: both encounters are played out not only on the same set (designed by Anthony Ward) but at the same time. This certainly isn’t the first time that two quite separate dinners have been simultaneously staged at the same table, but Logan interweaves them with a skill that you can’t help admiring, sometimes overlapping on the same theme and even going so far as to have the same line spoken at the same time.

There is a risk that his cleverness will attract attention to form rather than content, but the performances Jonathan Kent’s direction draws from this cast ensure that doesn’t happen.

The confrontations in Double Feature may touch on artistic differences between actor and director, but its emphasis is on the way in which people with power in the business exert it, whether director or actor, threatening to make or break a career. Such manipulation isn’t news to a #MeToo generation, but it is compellingly enacted with exquisite timing by actors who inhabit their characters.

These aren’t impersonations, though there is a touch of the lookalike in Ian McNeice's lumbering, drop-chinned Hitchcock and Jonathan Hyde’s bearded and mascaraed Price, while Joanna Vanderham is fashion-model elegant with beautifully coiffed hair and elbow-length gloves (which it turns out hide hands covered in eczema). I have no idea what Michael Reeves looked like, but Rowan Polonski gives him a forceful sincerity. They all four become people, not names on a billboard.

With a script that is full of intriguing detail that packs a lot into a single act of less than 90 minutes, Double Feature keeps you eager to find out what will happen even though, sixty years later, you almost certainly already know. It is also at times very funny and lit to great effect by Hugh Vanstone.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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