Writer: Larry Mollin
Director: Anna Ostergren
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
One of the most prolific of screenwriters during Hollywood’s black and white Golden Age, Ben Hecht was (credited or uncredited) behind some of the greatest films of all time, from Gone With The Wind to His Girl Friday. Going on to become an accomplished playwright and novelist, he was also an active campaigner for the rights of Jews who, in the aftermath of World War II, were struggling to find a permanent home in Palestine.
Larry Mollin’s engaging one-act play dramatises the conflict between an older Hecht (Paul Easom), his campaigning days well behind him, and his wayward daughter Jenny, played by Samantha Dakin. The child has inherited her father’s campaigning nature, finding herself caught up in 1960s politics, with free love and with the radical experimental theatre group The Living Theatre.
The majority of the play’s action consists of telephone calls between Hecht and his daughter, but the nature of the pair’s comfort with the conventions of theatre allows them to break down the walls between their rooms, along with the fourth wall between them and the audience, with ease. Eason and Dakin play the father-daughter relationship well, conveying a pair who are all too aware that their disagreements about each other’s life and approach to the world are rooted in their extreme similarities.
Exposition about real life events is traditionally hard to present in an engaging manner, but Mollin’s script makes breezy work of summarising The Living Theatre’s turbulent history. Here, Hecht predicts an accurately dark future for his daughter as she prepares to embark on a European tour with the troupe. History is presented as starkly prescient prediction, ensuring that the future is seen as unwinding with a slice of inevitability, even down to the details of both Jenny and Ben’s eventual deaths.An often comedic script is laced with more sinister undertones, especially underlined by Laura Pradelska and a leonine Tom Hunter as Jenny’s lovers and theatre compatriots. Their description of the rôle Jenny will play in the Living Theatre’s sexually interactive theatre lends a sinister, manipulative air, suggesting that while Jenny may be right about her motives, her father is also correct about the damage she may be doing to herself.
Theatre about theatre has a tendency to come across navel-gazing and introspective. That is certainly true here, but it draws in its audience so well that the resultant piece delivers a winning take on a slice of theatrical history.
Runs until 29 November 2015 | Image:Henika Thompson