Beginning with a Pygmalionesque flirtation between a semiotics prof and a voluptuous, young acolyte, the play insists we surrender ourselves to several parallel journeys; not least a voyage of discovery designed to uncover the buried, treasured secret to which I’ve alluded above. In exploring it, they discover much about themselves, as they patiently, yet urgently, piece together elusive fragments of disintegrating celluloid; in the process cobbling together forgotten and denied parts of each other. Johnson blurs the boundaries of stage and cinema in this ‘big, bold adventure’, as London's Evening Standard referred to it. Scenes are also blurred and montaged; Johnson relying on slow dissolves, rather than cuts: are we in the here and now, or Hollywood, 1959? What is merely cinematic licence and what problematically real? The play draws heavily on the iconic landmarks of Hitch’s career and the dry, deadpan, caustic genius of the man himself. Central is the infamous Psycho shower scene.
Factory Space founder and artistic director, Roz Riley, has capitalised on most opportunities, while missing a few. Her cast is exceedingly good and well-chosen. She has grappled with the difficulties of temporal transitions expertly, such that audiences, I expect, unless lazy or dull, will have few difficulties coping with them. Indeed, for mine, this is most probably Ms Riley’s finest.
While, at time floundering and meandering a little, it’s hard to know if the play, or interpretation, is at fault.
Puzzling were the reticent start and finish: had things gone down the road of the first 5 minutes, I’m not sure I’d have been there for the last 5. The character of Nicola, especially, disconcertingly transformed. Did something happen backstage (an unexpectedly captivating possibility, given the ghostly material)?
Steve McGrath, in a reprise of a role he wrote & perfected in a Short ‘n’ Sweet piece (North By East Of Eden) a couple of years ago, plays the great man. While I harbour some reservations about the accuracy of accent, he has successfully honed-in a couple of the more eccentric aspects of Hitchcock’s speech, as well as getting his general demeanour and carriage down pat, so as to effect a compelling, colourful caricature in which he and we are doomed to delight.
Belinda Marques plays the archetypal, sultry blonde victim with a full, seductive complement of the femme fatale. Hers is, arguably, the most complete and cohesive performance.
David Sutton excels in a difficult role as the not-so-strong, silent and sadistic but, equally, tormented, husband.
Geoff Cartwright was especially convincing as the unscrupulous, predatory, middle-aged academic, playing every angle to seduce the fleeting object of his desire.
Eleni Schumacher, as the innocent, if streetwise, student and collaborator, would’ve impressed regardless, but given this is her professional debut, shows what prodigious potential she has: watch this space!
Amelia Foxton, in her ‘screen’ role, too, shot by enthusiastic amateur (I mean that as a compliment), David Tucker, succeeded easily in bringing us the backstory.
Jon Tidswell’s lighting design deserves special credit: at last, a lighting designer who understands less is infinitely more. Here is a man whose technical prowess is in intimate touch with his artistic inclinations. Bravo!
The only hole in the middle of the whole shebang is the glaring lack of a set designer. While incorporating quite brilliant concepts (such as the lowering and raising of the screen &, particularly, the iconic shower curtain as a centrepiece and device for scenic segues), the overall effect was one of ugly, frustrating disarray. Had the shower screen dominated even more, without the distractions of other props and stage furniture, then, we would’ve really had something.
Johnson's play echoes Hitchcock's filmic canon, inasmuch as proving a jumping-off point for closer inspection of unsettling issues. The darkness, however, is permeated and peppered by light, bright comic relief. All-in-all, this is a sexy, provocative, penetrating play; exceptionally well-written and played to, well, just, this side of the hilt, by a company whose endeavours well-and-truly surpass budget and resources. Accordingly, your small investment will well-and-truly reap rewards; especially, if you’re not averse to thinking about the underbelly of human affairs, rather than having it painted, starkly, on a small screen, in prime time. Besides, what voyeur can resist an exploration of the motivations, inspirations, history, heart, mind & soul of one of the most influential figures in film?
Factory Space Theatre Company presents
by Terry Johnson
Venue: Star of the Sea Theatre, Corner of Collingwood Street and Iluka Avenue, Manly
Dates/Times: 7:30pm – Sat 12th, Thu 17th; Fri 18th; Sat 19th;
Thu 24th; Fri 25th; Sat 26th April
Matinees: 3:00pm - Sun 13th; Sun 20th & Sat 26th
Tickets: $30 / $25. Group discounts and School parties by arrangement
Bookings: 02 9439 1906