ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S WRITERS’ ROOM – Bob Kaley Theatre, The Minghella Studios, University of Reading


9 August 2018

4****

The Genius that was Alfred Hitchcock gathered around him writers of great renown and repute, John Steinbeck, Sidney Gilliatt, John Michael Hayes and Ernest Lehman, thus this story, set in 1961,  of him setting four, pretty incompetent, writers the task of crafting something to follow up Psycho is obviously a fiction… or is it? Nothing is quite what you expect in ‘Alfred Hitchcock’s Writers’ Room’, a new play by Ades Singh and Cameron Gill.

We open with rookie detective Devlin outlining the death of a young woman, Sarah and how investigations are now centring on this small group of 4 writers. In order to find out more he secretes himself (not very well) in their room and listens.

There follows the introduction of the different writers; the suave Kevin, the fey Scott, the sweet Lila and the ballsy Maya. All have a new script to talk about, which they do and briefly each plot is acted out. All the plots seem to centre on the death of a young woman called Sarah. So, our detective’s brain starts whirring.

The premise for the play is excellent and the background music , the soundtrack to Vertigo,  for the audience to enter by creates a perfect atmosphere! Throughout the play are references to other Hitchcock films – from fairgrounds and tennis matches (Strangers on a Train) to dead mothers (Psycho) and this is fun even if you are not fully up on your Hitch.

As our (clumsy and incompetent) Detective Devlin draws his conclusions from what he has heard there is a section of dialogue which contains a whole truckload of Hitchcock film titles. Great stuff.

The dialogue is smart, incisive and witty with a few forays into the vulgar – the piece about a certain bodily fluid is very funny –  and the story telling is inventive and clever.

Each performer has a great amount to do. The four writers not only play themselves but characters in theirs and the other writers’ plots allowing great versatility.

Thomas Sparrow as Kevin is an almost Cary Grant-type character. Smooth, charming and smart. He exudes confidence as an actor. Rebecca Penn as the sweet and slightly vulnerable Lila (a name borrowed from a character in Psycho?) is spot on. Jess Davies as the tough, no-nonsense Maya hits just the right notes and Conor Field as camp Scott is hilarious with his frequent cross-dressing and his splendid wardrobe of facial expressions! Luke Cox looks every ounce the tough policeman – except he is anything but and carries his incompetence well!

There were a few times, particularly in the final exposition, that the actors just spoke too fast and rendered the final parts of the plot tricky to follow. I also got the feeling that the conclusion of the play had not been easy to write and felt that there was something slightly lacking as the ending was weaker than the play overall.  Just thoughts.

I must pay tribute to the wonderful and evocative poster designs by Kit Lane – very much a recognition of the work of the great Saul Bass. I would also like to mention the inter-scene vocals – a fascinating take on the Bernard Herrmann score to Psycho – clever!

Cameron Gill has taken the script and with his actors and technical team produced a highly effective pastiche/parody/homage to Hitchcock with the tongue firmly planted in the cheek.

This is an original, funny and engaging piece of theatre. It is so exciting to see new writing like this emerge and my recent exposure to the work of Reading University Drama Society underlines my believe that this is an incredibly exciting centre of theatrical talent.

The play will be seen at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 13-18 August at The Space on North Bridge. Do catch it there. I cannot recommend it highly enough.


WRITERS – Ades Singh & Cameron Gill

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