DOUBLE FEATURE at Hampstead Theatre
“Each performer reveals the layers of these complex characters with a skill that stretches beyond the mere words on the page”
Can you separate the artist from the man? Now there’s a question. One that has been around for a very long time, but becomes more pertinent as time progresses and attitudes advance. John Logan addresses this in in his cutting-edge and challenging new play “Double Feature”. Although Alfred Hitchcock is only part of the story, he is the one that pulls focus, morphing from idol to vindictive sexual predator in the space of ninety minutes. It is perhaps dangerous territory to tread, but thrilling to watch. So long as you are prepared to be discomfited.
It is 1964 and Hitchcock, at his zenith as the world’s most celebrated filmmaker, has invited his muse and leading lady, Tippi Hedren, to his cottage on the Universal lot to ‘rehearse’. Meanwhile, in 1967, the young film director, Michael Reeves, is attempting to cook for, and mollify, veteran actor Vincent Price in his Suffolk cottage. Two continents and three years apart the stories are intermeshed with echoes and parallels that overlap like twisted limbs in a fierce, four-hand wrestling match.
Jonathan Kent’s imaginative staging splices the action together seamlessly, beautifully capturing Logan’s dramatic device of running the two stories simultaneously. All four characters are onstage throughout; one couple retreating to the shadows like ghosts in limbo during the moments when the lights are focused on the other pair. Yet there is an invisible cord that pulls all four together which tightens each time we cut from one scene to the next.
Both relationships are at a period of crisis and the cast capture the requisite power struggle and dynamics. Ian McNeice is an affable, charismatic titan as Hitchcock. His initial, almost cuddly persona rapidly melting into sinister monstrosity while Joanna Vanderham swings in a completely opposite direction. Her obsequious Tippi Hedren, pushed to the very edge of humiliation fights back with a master stroke performance that will have every #MeToo advocate cheering from the rooftops. Jonathan Hyde, as the understandably cantankerous Vincent Price, toys with his ‘new-kid’, arthouse director, wielding his experience and superiority like a piece of string to an overwrought kitten. Rowan Polonski brings out the multifaceted Michael Reeves with consummate skill, eventually winning Price’s respect. Each performer reveals the layers of these complex characters with a skill that stretches beyond the mere words on the page. Polonski, in particular, bringing out the tragic irony of a man who would be dead less than a year later.
This might not be to everyone’s taste, and the insider knowledge often threatens to overshadow the general appeal of the play. And we sometimes feel that Logan is writing for himself almost as much as for his audience. It is, however, compulsive viewing. As the scenes overlap, so do the notions of life imitating art. The two storylines portray the sometimes hidden and dark process of creating art, like a ferocious tennis match in which the unseeded has as strong a backhand as the ace server. It does well to keep the play within a short, one act time frame, concentrating the drama instead of overstretching the concept. Never becoming too earnest there are plenty of moments of humour in this unashamed and unflinching glimpse behind the scenes. The real winner, in the end, is the audience.
DOUBLE FEATURE at Hampstead Theatre
Reviewed on 19th February 2024
by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Manuel Harlan
Previously reviewed at this venue: