Hitchcock Blonde

Terry Johnson
Royal Court Theatre Downstairs
(2003)

In recent years, Terry Johnson has specialised in plays involving real-life characters and particularly, he has paid homage to amongst others, Benny Hill, the Carry On team, Marilyn Monroe and Dali. It was therefore perhaps, no great surprise that he has now set his sights on the film noir of Alfred Hitchcock.

David Haig plays Alex, a media lecturer and film buff aged 46 and 17 months. He has stumbled upon some vintage canisters that appear to contain film shot by Alfred Hitchcock in 1919, before he became famous. He agrees to share his good luck with his young Irish protégée, Nicola (Fiona Glascott). He immediately invites her to his Greek retreat to study his discovery. Her instinct that he has ulterior motives is inevitably to prove correct.

Cut into their story of lust but little love is the tale of a mystery Hitchcock Blonde who entranced the Master in 1959. William Hootkins is excellent in his portrayal of Hitchcock, a man who lusts after his Blonde no more nor less than his Dover sole. His well-chewed words and physique are entirely convincing. Bond girl Rosamund Pike plays a Marilyn Monroe-like figure who will ultimately do whatever is necessary to become a film star and pay off the debts that she and her violent husband share.

The scenes in 1959 are divided. First there are those between Hitchcock and the blonde in which power subtly switches from the former when he decides to make a private pornographic film. Then, we see scenes straight from Tennessee Williams as the Blonde tells her husband of her encounter with the film director. Their relationship also becomes significantly more complicated in true Hitchcockian style.

As the historical scenes are playing out, like real film detectives, Alex and Nicola gradually piece together from single shots the story of Hitchcock's early muse. She was his original blonde and the start of his long obsession that eventually led to such classics as Psycho and Vertigo. Johnson, who directs his own script, clearly intends us to believe that the modern couple's relationship is equally complex though the problems are far more contemporary.

The conclusions that we reach are that blondes, rather than having more fun, are likely to be neurotic and threatened. Sadly, their sexual allure is likely to be both their making and, ultimately, their destruction. The reason for this is that it is only a matter of time before each of them meets their own dirty old man, whether professor or film producer.

This production is often funny and holds the interest from start to finish in true film noir style. It is likely to prove a major draw for film buffs and Hitchcock fans, although the debunking of their hero may be hard for some of them to take.

They will also enjoy the production qualities, particularly since this is the second outing for William Dudley's film-style 3D computer-generated backdrops. He achieves one magical, Star Trek-like moment as Alex sees the ghost of his love showering naked in the middle of the set and seems to grasp her before she dematerialises.

Hitchcock Blonde plays until 10th May.

This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version

Philip Fisher