Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Doc Shock

Except possibly courtrooms, there are few settings more inherently dramatic than the hospital, and of these surely the most unpredictable and intense is the psychiatric clinic. The basic premise of Vertigo is that Roger Flavieres is hypnotically regressed in Ballard's clinic to demonstrate his phobias and their causes, so the story is told in highly animated flashback - but with the added spice that Madeleine/Renee can be seen by the audience, but by no other character on stage save Roger.
I did Stoppard's EGBDF as a young actor, most of which takes place in a Russian psychiatric clinic. It was disconcerting to step from the safety of the schoolroom area to approach Ivanov, the lunatic, as he posed as the Doctor. The superb Mark Penfold, who played Ivanov in that Oxford Playhouse production, also appeared in some of the Tricycle's Tribunal Plays in the late 90's. I ran into him there whilst I was doing some marketing, and I decided to say hello. "Do you remember me?" I said, "I played Sacha in EGBDF in 1979".
"Noooo, no no no no." he said. "No no no. You can't be. NO! You're a GROWN MAN! Oh God!" 

Monday, 19 July 2010

Night Sweats

I had the most peculiar dream last night. I was hosting a week-end garden party - all very Noel Coward - and my agent was staying. This unlikely scenario was compounded by his having bright red hair (he doesn't), and his refusal to talk to anyone whilst he wrote down notes (unlikely, he's very charming and gregarious), and his complaining that there was no clean towel in his room (sadly all too plausible in our rather haphazard household). I awoke braced for the "Dear Client" letter!

Tuesday, 13 July 2010


There's a moment in the Hitchcock film when Jimmy Stewart complains to Miss Ellie from Dallas that his "damned acrophobia" prevents him from even climbing kitchen steps - I've never noticed this exchange before.
Not for the first time, it turns out that I've been labouring under a mistake - acrophobia is the term for a fear of heights, not vertigo - that's the sensation of dizziness or spinning which can be associated with almost any phobia. You probably get vertigo if you have acrophobia, but it's not a phobic condition as such.
However, Vertigo has now become common currency as the term for a fear of heights, almost certainly thanks to the film.
These sort of global assumptions aren't rare. When we were doing Ab's Party a remarkable number of people would say, "Oh, yes? And who's playing Abigail?" Cue long tedious explanation and gradual glazing of questioner's eyes. The same thing would happen when I was doing "The Importance of Being Earnest", and even when I'd try to jolly it up by saying "Well it's terribly funny really, because Jack and Algy are called Ernest, but then of course they're not, and..." people would get really quite narked.
You feel like a pedant doing this after a while, so I'll let the vertigo thing slide. Instead here's the wonderful poster design, courtesy of and copyright OTC.

Monday, 5 July 2010

From Amongst the Dead

My script for "Vertigo" arrived last week, so I've spent a happy few days leafing through it. I watched the film and read the novel (clumsily titled above) as preparation, and I was very keen to see whether there'd been any easing of the rather unpalatable Flavieres character for this adaptation (as Hitchcock clearly felt was necessary for Hollywood).
If anything, Roger's situation in the play underlines how serious his psychological state is - he's hospitalised under the care of Dr Ballard (a very minor character in the book) and as such is an oddity, a freakshow for Ballard's audience. Looking at my notes for the recall, they were of a damaged, compromised person, short-tempered and mercurial - but this is really him before he meets Madeleine. Afterwards he's emotionally destroyed by the experience of loving and losing her, and without much hope, tries to reassemble himself with Renee. Of course his hubris is to try to remodel her, and do a better job than he could have expected.