Double Feature ★★★★ Hampstead Theatre | Feb 8 - Mar 16, 2024

Double Feature is a clever counterpointing of two relationships between director and actor which exposes the power dynamic between the two principals and the complex nature of the creative process. The real relationships of Alfred Hitchcock with Tippi Hedren and Vincent Price with Michael Reeves are paralleled as they work on two films that deal with manipulation and terror. The personal and professional interactions of the pairs are contrasted as the older member of the team uses their experience and status to assert control. In the programme notes writer, John Logan, says that he sees the structure of his play in musical terms and the two narratives explore the same themes using artful variations to play off against each other. The stories share a set which in one case is a faux English cottage that Hitchcock created in a California studio, and in the other is a real cottage where Reeves worked while directing Witchfinder General. Both stories include a meal and a rehearsal, plus a psychological, and possibly physical, stripping of the younger partner. In the case of the Hitchcock-Hedren relationship the meal is an elaborate affair used to threaten the latter and the rehearsal is a working out of Hitchcock's obsessions to which Hedren contributes only a scream. In the Price-Reeves narrative the metaphorical project of the meal is botched by the latter and saved by the former. And, the rehearsal proves to be a begrudging but fruitful collaborative process. In both cases the result of these fraught interactions will be a film that endures with performances that mesmerise. The same might be said of this fascinating production. All four members of the cast bring their "A" game to Logan's multilayered work. Ian McNeice oozes menace as the tyrannical Hitchcock, and Joanna Vanderham exudes a wonderfully quavering balance between vulnerability and assertion in her role as Hedren. Similarly, Rowan Polonski catches Reeves' delicate equilibrium between youthful arrogance and desperation to create his masterpiece. As Vincent Price, Jonathan Hyde consummately brings to life the man of refined taste whose acting has become a caricature to amuse a mass audience. The piece is relatively static, but Jonathan Kent's adroit direction ensures that interest never flags. Logan has written a challenging work which is beautifully performed, and like all good music it promises to be even more rewarding on further acquaintance.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Manuel Harlan

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