Thirty-four years after his death, the legacy of Alfred Hitchcock continues to grow. Or, should I say Alfred Joseph Hitchcock, as the title of David Rudkin’s play, part of 59E59’s Brits off Broadway series, emphasises the middle initial: how else to echo T.S. Eliot’s “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock”? Rudkin’s work, which is stimulating if a little too elliptical, began life as a “film for radio”. It was broadcast in 1993, well before such recent movies as The Girl and Hitchcock explored the director’s relationship with his icy leading ladies and his canny wife, Alma.
Rudkin’s expanded version – which premiered at the Curve Theatre in Leicester in the East Midlands of England, far from Hitchcock’s native Leytonstone in London – also touches on the cinematic sexiness involving Tippi Hedren in The Birds. Not to mention Kim Novak in Vertigo, which last year topped Sight & Sound’s poll of The Greatest Films of All Time.
Although Rudkin’s play, directed by Jack McNamara, is concerned largely with Hitchcock’s guilt-ridden relationship with his mother, as well as with the principal of the Jesuit college he attended, the more tantalising moments occur between Hitchcock and an unnamed young screenwriter.
In those exchanges we enjoy Hitchcock’s rationale for sensual restraint. Rudkin’s version of the director says: “Sex scenes on screen, they’re immoral. Why? Because they don’t work. If they’re faked, they’re false; if they’re real, they’re not art.” But I prefer what the real Hitchcock said on the same subject to François Truffaut: “If sex is too blatant or obvious, there’s no suspense. You know why I favour sophisticated blondes in my films? We’re after the drawing-room type, the real ladies, who become whores once they’re in the bedroom.”
Rudkin’s language is simple. An image. A thought. Pauses. More expansive is Alma, aged 80, sitting at a desk and writing about her life with the great man. She makes a note about English critics despising Hitchcock’s American pictures as inferior: “He’s not addressing himself to their exclusive English humour any more.”
There’s not much humour – of any brand – in Rudkin’s drama. It is more of a mood piece, effectively causing us to think about Hitchcock’s psychology but a bit thin in accumulation. Against a simple set – a director’s chair, a large screen – the actors enact their roles with finesse. Martin Miller is superb as Hitchcock, and Roberta Kerr is dexterous as both the director’s wife and his mother.