Surprisingly uncomplicated, with a title like The Screenwriter’s Daughter, this production could have gone in virtually any direction, insofar as we never really know what the offspring of anyone in any profession will end up doing with their lives. In the event, Jenny Hecht (Samantha Dakin) ends up falling into the wrong crowd, one of those who was not here on this earth for a long time but for a good time.
I am not entirely sure quite how much of Larry Mollin’s script involved artistic licence – the screenwriter in question, Ben Hecht (Paul Easom, who cut a striking resemblance to the actual Ben Hecht) had an imagination appropriate to his craft. The show is not in chronological order, and father and daughter sometimes reminisce or otherwise consider the future. But, as might be expected, Jenny’s version of events is different to her father’s, and in the conflicting perspectives intrigue builds within the audience as to which, if either, is providing an accurate sequence of events.
The senior Hecht is not unlike Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, a man who must work, and work hard, espousing traditionalist values and beliefs. He is rather hypocritical at one point, criticising Jenny for sleeping with Steve (Tom Hunter), all the while cheating on his own wife Rose by sleeping with Magda (Laura Pradelska). Ben is portrayed as a man set in his ways, unwilling to embrace emerging (at the time) forms of avant-garde theatre. His daughter: the opposite.
I must admit I struggled to have much sympathy for either of the Hechts by the end. Jenny was an opinionated, intelligent, confident and articulate young woman who probably knew the dangers of overdosing on illegal drugs, and I felt this play could have expanded more on what exactly happened. At least the unknowns give the aura of this play being a faithful rendering of real-life events – that is, speculating is futile (or, perhaps, could potentially lead to a lawsuit).
It is good for a play to examine the personal lives of people better known for their public works and actions. But what is bizarre in the light of the show’s title is that it’s really the screenwriter’s life and times that came across as more interesting than his daughter’s. Although a varied and experimental life, there was little that stood the young actor Jenny apart from the rest of the Woodstock generation – apart from her lineage. I would have liked to have heard more from other characters in Jenny’s life – film directors she worked with, fellow actors, school friends and so on.
The play itself is well-conceived, with a stunning scene in which the fourth wall is cleverly breached, without any members of the audience actually having to do anything. However, The Screenwriter’s Daughter ends with its subject being almost as much of an enigma to me than when it began. Maybe it was meant to be that way – an eternal mystery. The show held my attention, for sure, but it raised more questions in my mind than it resolved.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The Screenwriter’s Daughter
EUROPEAN PREMIEREDirected by Anna Ostergren
The Screenwriter’s Daughter is a new play dealing with the life of the illustrious Hollywood icon, Ben Hecht, as seen through the tempestuous relationship of Ben and his free-spirited, young, sixties generation daughter Jenny. Against her father’s wishes, Jenny joined the revolutionary, avant garde theatre troupe The Living Theatre.
Rich and powerful, Ben was a successful screenwriter, playwright, journalist and human rights activist. He has been attributed with writing 120 screenplays during Hollywood’s Golden Era and has been recognized for his human rights efforts in creating public awareness of the Holocaust and furthering the cause of Jews around the world. Balding, urbane and cynical, at 71 years old he appreciates the finer things in life. He was blacklisted in the United Kingdom for his political activism.
The Screenwriter’s Daughter was written by highly regarded veteran Hollywood writer and playwright Larry Mollin. Among his many credits, Larry is well-known for his lead creative and writing role on Aaron Spelling’s hit television series Beverly Hills 90210. His new folk musical Search: Paul Clayton has been running recently off-Broadway in New York. The Screenwriter’s Daughter will be directed by talented, up and coming, LAMDA-trained director Anna Ostergren who has half a dozen London productions to her credit and a large and growing fan club.
SAMANTHA DAKIN Jenny Hecht
PAUL EASOM Ben Hecht
TOM HUNTER Steve
LAURA PRADELSKA Magda and May Mountain
LIVING THEATRE Edward Cherrie & Ru Guramthunhu
LARRY MOLLIN Writer
ANNA OSTERGREN Director
IRWIN OLIAN Producer
MAEVE BOLGER Stage Manager
LYDIA CAWSON Set & Costume Designer
SARAH CROCKER Lighting Designer
TIFFANY ANNAN Choreographer
The Screenwriter’s Daughter
31 October 2015 to 29th November 2015
Leicester Square Theatre
6 Leicester Place
London, WC2H 7BX