Now that Gone With The Wind has departed the West End, not with a Technicolor bang but with a Southern-accented whimper, there’s something faintly amusing about this small show, a comedy about the film’s genesis, returning to the Tricycle for a second run following its success there last autumn.
Margaret Mitchells Pulitzer-winning novel was written in 1936 and film producer David O Selznick acquired the rights soon after publication. Ron Hutchinsons play starts at the point where Selznick, dubious about the way things are progressing on set, has shut down the production and removed the original director, George Cukor. Despairing over ever finding a workable script, he summons screen writer Ben Hecht to his office and coerces him into writing something new in five days, unfazed by the fact that Hecht had not actually read the book and is adamant that no civil war picture has ever made a dime.
They are joined by the films new director Victor Fleming, who has just come from filming The Wizard of Oz – where he apparently gave Judy Garland a slap. Fleming is equally convinced that this film is going to be the turkey to end all turkeys. Only Selznick believes that this movie is worth the effort. But hes the man with the studio behind him, the man with the money, so hes able to barricade the other men in his office until they bash out a brand new script.
Hutchinsons highly entertaining comedy imagines what may have gone on behind Selznicks office door as, for five days, these three men, fuelled only on a diet of peanuts and bananas brain food re-enact scenes from the novel (watching them play out the birth of Melanies baby is a particularly delicious moment) and generally grow more sweaty, dishevelled and fractious. By the start of the second act the office is awash with banana skins and crumpled paper, as Hecht sits, with glazed eyes and shot nerves, at his typewriter, exhausted.
Though small in scope one set, three characters Sean Holmes production has an appealingly lush feel and revels in an atmosphere of old time Hollywood gloss, the dialogue alternating between finely honed comic banter and moments of screwball silliness. The whole thing is a world away from the turgid trudge that was Hutchinson’s recent effort Topless Mum, two more different plays you couldnt imagine.
In between the comic scenes, Hutchinson has Hecht speak out, both about the way slavery is treated in Mitchells novel (the scene where Scarlett slaps her maid Prissy proving particularly contentious), and about the anti-Semitism that was still rife in Hollywood. When Selznick questions this, Hecht proves to him that, despite his success, he will always be a Jew to the people who work for him, never a true American.
The trio of actors have a nice rapport, with Andy Nyman (Derren Browns regular collaborator) particularly strong as the fast-talking Selznick, who for all his bluster, has a sweetly optimistic view of the power of cinema. Nyman was in the original Tricycle staging last year, as was the gangly Steven Pacey, who plays Victor Fleming; Nicholas Woodeson, as Ben Hecht, is new to the production, but it was impossible to tell that this was the case. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves in a way that was infectious and often made the audience laugh harder than perhaps, with hindsight, the material warranted.