In his latest play, writer Larry Mollin focuses his attention on renowned screenplay writer Ben Hecht – responsible for the likes of Gone With The Wind and a number of Hitchcock films amongst others. Hecht was frequently uncredited for his work and was blacklisted in the UK during the 40s and 50s for political activism. His daughter Jenny, meanwhile, carried his mantle into the 60s as an actress working with the Living Theatre company - a girl with free-spirited political views, a child of her time. The Screenwriter’s Daughter fittingly brings these two characters together, detailing the narrative of their relationship.
So what we have is a writer writing about a writer. It’s almost too obvious that proceedings all get a little too clever. Mollin litters his script with quotes from Hecht’s films, theatrical and cinematic terms and language, and a thorough shattering of the fourth wall. It’s as if the characters are consciously players in a show but are incapable of escaping the script that’s been written for them, their destiny that’s already become history.
That’s one of the main issues with The Screenwriter’s Daughter. The tragic ending is inevitable, even for those who may not be familiar with the lead figures. Yet Mollin fails to draw any dramatic tension out of their lives, so there’s little reason for the audience to emotionally invest in these characters. Further, Anna Ostergren’s basic direction does little to elevate the script. The set divides the stage into two areas – a bed and a study – and the narrative essentially boils down to a series of acted out phone calls. It’s heavy on the dialogue, with no visual changes, very little music, and the peripheral characters simply standing and reciting their lines.
Mollin’s script does at least differentiate between the two lead characters through clever dialogue. Hecht’s speech is full of Hollywood jargon, whilst his daughter’s overblown words are those of a naïve dreamer, clearly highlighting the juxtaposition of their opposing views. The performances, too, reflect this – Paul Easom is a charming and naturalistic father figure, although Samantha Dakin doesn’t quite display the eccentricities of an anarchic revolutionary.
Strip the historical context, though, and what’s left is little more than a tragic tale of a young girl rebelling against her overbearingly protective father. What could have been an interesting look at a major player in cinematic history is instead rather tedious.
Watch: The Screenwriter’s Daughter runs at the Leicester Square Theatre until 29th November.
Photo: Henika Thompson