Hitchcock buffs rejoice: The Lovesong of Alfred J. Hitchcock will put your knowledge of the work and life of the Master of Suspense to test. And for those without an encyclopedic recall of the film director’s output, there is still much to enjoy in this thoughtful play, not least Martin Miller’s near perfect rendition of the man himself.
The title plays on the fortuitous similarity of Hitchcock’s name to the J.Alfred Prufrock of T.S. Eliot’s poem. Lines from Eliot such as “There will be time to murder and create” seem to resonate here, and a re-reading of the whole poem may also prove helpful to appreciating this interpretation of Hitchcock’s life.
The play opens on a backdrop of a blank screen and Hitchcock’s empty director’s chair. The soundtrack of squawking birds is the first of many references to Hitchcock’s films and one of the more obvious. The sudden black out that follows is another. When the lights come back up, Miller is sitting in that chair and he immediately launches into what appears be a staccato word association. But this austere monologue gradually reveals itself to be an unpunctuated almost poetic word-by-word treatment which unfolds shot by shot into a classic Hitchcock scene. Miller’s London accent, complete with period pronunciations such as see-yoot for “suit”, makes you feel you are in the presence of the real man.
“I’m an ordinary sort of man,” he claims. “Sort of Jimmy Stewart character.” But it soon becomes clear that he is anything but ordinary and, in fact, he seems very troubled indeed.
In playwright David Rudkin’s telling, Hitchcock was a genius with an obsession with his own unhappy childhood, an unfulfilled sex life and a mother complex. He was clearly deeply affected by the harsh treatment he received as a child and as a result nurtured a fascination with those who are wrongly accused. This is not news, but as Rudkin’s text juxtaposes past and present, the influence of this mentality on Hitchcock’s creative process is writ large.
In cinematic style, the backdrop soon comes into play as we meet Hitchcock’s mother, Emma, in sinister silhouette behind the screen -an obvious nod to the shower curtain scene in Psycho. Roberta Kerr gives sterling performances as both Emma and Hitchcock’s stoic wife, Alma, who was also his under-acknowledged collaborator. After his death, she tries to write a book about her husband, but is conflicted about whether to write the truth or the myth about the man. Tom McHugh and Anthony Wise round out the cast playing a creepy priest, an over-enthusiastic screen writer, and a bone-chilling murderer, among other figures in Hitchcock’s past.
While the first act of the play focuses on Hitchcock’s youth, early films and creative techniques, Act 2 delves deeper into his psychological preoccupations and his attitude towards women. Hitchcock almost exclusively favored icy blondes as his leading ladies, and here Alma tells us how woefully he treated them, bullying them and forcing his unwanted advances on them. Again this is not new territory, but the details and the psychological decline of the director portrayed here may have those with extensive knowledge of Hitchcock’s life quibbling.
The production stands out within the genre of bio-plays, by making use of both the biographical and the cinematic details of the man’s life. Incidental music consists mostly of recognizable soundtracks from his films, and the audience responded in delight as Hitchcock trivia was woven seamlessly into the narrative. Hitchcock directed more than 50 films in his career and Jack McNamara’s production attests to the profound influence he had on the future of cinema.