You do not often look around an audience during a show and see barely any unsmiling faces; scarcer still, there is unanimous overheard praise afterwards.And yet, Alfred Hitchcock’s Writers’ Room is a funny little play from the Reading University Drama Society that achieves both of those things. Perhaps this is because, despite its faults, it accomplishes something rarer and rarer demonstrated in recent Fringes - a remarkable sense of playing onstage. Undoubtedly this is credited to the direction of Cameron Gill (who is also to thank for a fantastic script with Ades Singh) and a winning cast of Thomas Sparrow, Rebecca Penn, Conor Field, Jess Davies and Luke Cox.
The resolution is appropriately satisfying
We are taken (surprisingly) to the writers’ room of the famous director Alfred Hitchcock. An excitable detective (Luke Cox) shares his investigation into the murder of a woman known as ‘Sarah’. As he dives behind a couch, the scriptwriters arrive, each sharing their visions for the next big Hitchcock thriller and suggesting an explanation to the mystery in their subtext. The engine is the group’s abundant dynamism, striking fluidity and tremendous wit; all thoroughly enjoyable for audiences – as well as, seemingly, the cast – and just incredibly fun. The vignettes of the writers’ stories feel brilliantly cartoonish, though this style at times strays too far, sacrificing nuance and quality. The script is full of great material - “Murder makes me hungry” – that fantastically sends the retro theme through the prism of modernity. There is also some truly intuitive lighting courtesy of George Ormisher - not often seen in student productions.
Unfortunately, there are workable issues. Some performances overtly lack the detail and vividness of others in addition to the presence necessary to fill their (significant) roles – not to mention inconsistent accents. This is partially responsible for the main issue that plagues Alfred Hitchcock’s Writers’ Room – rhythm. Momentum is steadily built but quickly and awkwardly slashed. There is often an obvious lack of sharpness and snappiness with ‘fat’ yet to be cut from certain scenes. This energy could be better focused into making some of the bigger moments – such as the detective’s revealing of himself and the killer’s confession – more significant (for there are other levels to ‘big’ beyond screaming). The creation a trendy sense of ‘meta’ falls flat through a lack of commitment, though with more thought and consistency it might have appeared more tangible.
The resolution is appropriately satisfying; while the killer’s confession is marvellously deadpan – “I’m deadly serious when it comes to murder” – it lacks energy and drama, feeling anticlimactic. But the blurring of the writers’ ambitions and those of their characters in the final moments is a gratifying expression of the piece’s joie de vivre. Terrific story aside, it is the enthusiasm, energy and fun with which the cast bounce around the stage and off each other that ensured the audience’s delight and that makes Alfred Hitchcock’s Writers’ Room a jolly good time this festival.