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Phil Willmott

Review: THE SCREENWRITER’S DAUGHTER at The Leicester Square Theatre

The Screenwriter's Daughter The screenwriter, playwright, novelist, journalist and political reactionary, Ben Hecht was an extraordinary man.

Credited or unaccredited he contributed to some of the greatest movies of the golden age of Hollywood including GONE WITH THE WIND, THE FRONT PAGE and SCARFACE. I first became aware of him whilst working on a stage adaptation of SCARFACE and I was struck by the artistry and wit with which he turned the tacky original novel into a shimmering screen play.

Alongside his writing he also managed to alienate many powerful people by speaking up about injustice in Israel before it was fashionable of acceptable to do so.

I was very excited then when I was invited to review a play about his life at the Leicester Square Theatre but I should have paid more attention to the title.

As it suggests THE SREENWRITER’S DAUGHTER by Larry Mollin is as much about his spoilt, messed up daughter as it is about the great man. Indeed the play assumes we don’t know or care about Hecht. There’s a line in which he tells the audience that he doesn’t imagine we’ve even heard of him. This is very wrong; from eavesdropping on conversations other audience members were having it was clear that we were all only there because we were curious about Hecht.

You do get a few interesting snippets of biographical information, for instance his political writing got him banned in Britain which is why he’s uncredited for scripting GONE WITH THE WIND, the studio couldn’t afford to alienate UK audiences and have them boycott the movie.

But most of the evening is centred on whether he’ll give his blessing to his daughter’s proposed trip to Europe as part of an experimental theatre troupe.

Who cares? It’s like having one of the greatest figures of 20th Century thinking on stage but drowning him out with the squawking of an unappealing child. There are some revelations which explain why the daughter is quite so damaged but that didn’t stop me from constantly wishing she’d just go so I could listen to her father’s account of his extraordinary achievements and the amazing people he met and events he’d witnessed.

This is a very low budget production, a bed on one side of the stage and a chair and desk on the other, surrounded by tatty black curtains but luckily the acting is terrific.

Paul Easton is very convincing as the wry, seen-it-all patriarch Hecht, juggling troublesome phone calls from his daughter with lunch orders, hushing up an affair and finishing a screen play. He has presence, authority and charisma and under Martin Witt’s solid direction he’s always very watchable.

Samantha Dakin is also excellent as daughter, Jenny Hecht. If she hadn’t been in the company of her brilliant father one might have been interested in her botched attempts to be taken seriously. Muscley Tom Hunter and husky voiced Laura Pradelska successfully play all the other characters.

There’s also an excellent recreation of a shambolic experimental performance piece from the 1960’s which is suitably alarming and confrontation in this tiny venue.

A good effort then from all involved. If only THE SCREENWRITER’S DAUGHTER had featured more “Screenwriter” and less “daughter”.