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Review: Double Feature (Hampstead Theatre)

Review by Daz Gale

 

⭐️⭐️

 

Several titans of cinema come to Hampstead Theatre for an intriguing new play, made all the more impressive by the fact some of them are now deceased. Alfred Hitchcock, Tippi Hedren, Vincent Price and Michael Reeves are the subject of Double Feature, a new world premiere of an American play getting its opening night in London. But would this ode to the world of filmmaking prove to be a box office smash or a major flop?



With two stories playing out simultaneously, Double Feature sets itself firmly in the 1960s in a break from production on two very different films. In 1963, Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren are discussing their current project, ‘Marnie’ and what might come next, while in 1967, Vincent Price and Michael Reeves are at loggerheads over their picture ‘Witchfinder General’. The two stories take turns to play out with all four actors present on the stage, though the two separate pairings never meet due to the different timeframes. Got it?

 

Written by John Logan, Double Feature boasts a potentially interesting presence, drawing on legendary names who made their mark in cinema and taking an imagined look at what might have gone on during the making of those movies. At the heart of the story is the relationship between a director and the star, asking the question of who really holds the power and showing two very differing dynamics play out at the same time. The use of parallels dotted throughout the play sets up a premise with plenty of potential…



Unfortunately, this potential was never fully utilised, leading to a massive missed opportunity. The writing was inconsistent and uneven throughout, leading to some frustrating sequences that needed tighter dialogue and were overlong in parts. Initially, of the two stories, I personally found the one between Reeves and Price all the more captivating with so much to explore particulary given Reeves' tragic passing at an early age. However, this barely scratched the surface. The story and pacing lagged furtherevery time the action reverted back to Hitchcock and Hedren – a strange occurrence considering I was personally more familiar with those two and expected to respond to their story more. A dramatic shift in Hitchcock and Hedren’s story toward the climax of the show proved all the more thrilling albeit uncomfortable but this seemed at odds with every scene the pair had prior, and failed to land with an impact. There is a moment in the show where the characters talk about lacking substance, and that is exactly the biggest problem with Double Feature – it lacks what it requires to really hit home the themes it brings up.

 

Jonathan Kent’s direction was pleasant in itself, if never quite reaching the stratospheric level you might have hoped given the reputation of the directors in the story. Shifting the narrative back between the two pairs grew tiresome throughout, particularly given the fact the pair in the background were neither in a freezeframe nor doing much, just moving very slowly in scenes that felt both underwritten and under-directed. The moments the pairs spoke in unison felt clumsy, and it all grew a bit too tiresome and repetitive.



One strong element of this production is the production values in itself. Anthony Ward’s set design recreates a room that manages to feel both homely and cold to each of the directors residing there, with no shortage of props to bring a bit more fun and variety to an otherwise static story. Hugh Vanstone’s lighting was exquisite at times, with Paul Groothius providing a faultless sound design. It was just a shame the writing wasn’t quite as impressive.

 

The four talented individuals stepping into the iconic shoes of such heavyweights can’t be faulted. Rowan Polonski showed versatility and nuance in his portrayal of the complex and tortured Michael Reeves, with one key scene showing his vulnerability among the standout moments of the play. Jonathan Hyde proves to be the perfect counterpart to this in his turn as the legendary Vincent Price with a performance that is both comedic and captivating. Their partnership managed to light up the stage at every turn, proving to have the greater dynamic, perhaps due to stronger writing on their part.



Alfred Hitchcock cuts an instantly recognisable figure so all credit to Ian McNeice for his fantastic portrayal of the titan of screen. The cast is completed by Joanna Vanderham, giving a predominantly sweet performance as Tippi Hedren. While she gets her moment to stand up for herself and prove there is more to her than just being a blonde as the show draws to a climax, the fact she is left to play up to the stereotype for the remainder of the show feels like a missed opportunity.

 

Double Feature is an interesting premise and one that could have been explored in far more depth and detail. It is a shame then that this play feels not quite worthy of the creatives it speaks of. At times it feels like it doesn’t know what it wants to be and at others finds a very convoluted and messy approach to try and get there, and not always succeeding. The idea of the parallels between the two stories and the changing dynamic could have been used far more efficiently, instead, we are left with a play that frustrates for its lack of cohesion and how underwritten it feels at times. Far thinner than the themes played out deserve, sadly there was nothing about Double Feature that made me want to return for a second helping.



Double Feature plays at Hampstead Theatre until 16th March. Tickets from https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/

 

Photos by Manuel Harlan

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