Hitchcock and Herrmann

(4MBS Performance Studio)


Written by David Knijnenburg

Profit-share production

Are you sitting comfortably? Then Ill tell you a story.

Its about a villain called Procrustes in ancient Greece, whose name means “he who stretches”. He kept a house by the side of the road where he offered hospitality to passing strangers, who were invited in for a pleasant meal and a night’s rest in his very special bed, which was said to match exactly the length of anyone who slept in it. To achieve this miracle, as soon as the guest lay down, Procrustes would either stretch the person on the rack if they were too short, or chop off their legs if they were too tall.

So what does Alfred Hitchcock have to do with Procrustes? I hear you cry.

In this new play or, more accurately, these two parallel monologues David Knijnenburg has both stretched and diminished the great master of suspense.

Hes stretched him in a physical sense, by expanding Hitchcocks diminutive size to his own lofty height, but hes diminished him by reducing him to a petulant ego-maniac.

The physical transformation, though, is so good that we tend to forget the disparity of height. Knijnenburgs makeup and accent are good enough to let us suspend our disbelief, and he is Hitchcock in the same way that Max Gillies is John Howard or Germaine Greer. This is achieved through brilliant makeup as well as a detailed study of Hitchcocks facial gestures and distinctive voice, as well as a bit of judicious padding, and the faade almost never slips.

Michael Priest looks less impressive as Bernard Herrmann, who composed the music for many of the masters greatest films and was his equal in self-importance, but as most people know him by name and musical score rather than face, it doesn?t really matter, although it makes the show rather lop-sided.

In theory, the structure of this show is clever, having the two stars play off each other by commenting on, rather than communicating with, each other, but in practice it makes for a rather dull hour, especially as there are so many longueurs in both script and performances.

Neither actor seemed fully in charge of his material, and on the first night there was a distinct feeling that the show wasnt quite ready. Were the awkward silences because the music cues were not co-ordinated properly, or did the actors just keep losing their lines?

I can see why Knijnenburg chose this structure, but Herrmann isnt given enough clever dialogue, so that his own ego comes through not as the complaint of a musical master, but as that of a whinging underling. Herrmann, who wrote brilliant scores not just for Hitchcock, but for films like Fahrenheit 451 and Taxi Driver , deserves better, both for the man himself, and for the integrity of the text.

Hitchcock and Herrmann is a brave try, but when youre taking on two of the great masters of the cinema, you need a script consultant, a more decisive director, and a stronger cast. The words Master and Great , which are used liberally in the promotional material, just dont seem relevant here.

Directed by David Knijnenburg

Playing Friday and Saturday nights until 19 March at 8pm

Running time: 1 hour, no interval

— Alison Cotes
(Performance seen: Thu 3rd March 2005)