Alfred Hitchcock was a genius when it came to creating cinematic experiences. Very few directors, if any, have been able to recreate the tension and anxiety that Hitchcock managed to conjure up in scenes such as Janet Leigh's shower death in Psycho and Grace Kelly's attack in Dial M for Murder. However, behind the scenes, things weren't always so "great" for his leading ladies. In Hitchcock's Birds, Laura Johnston explores what it really meant to be a woman in one of Hitchcock's movies.
Johnston portrays a number of these Hollywood legends, including Leigh, Kelly, Doris Day and Tippi Hedren and while many of the stories are not exactly new to anyone who has an interest in the man behind the camera or the women in front of it, the way Johnston tells these stories is what draws you in. Johnston uses verbatim interviews and speeches from these stars, which builds on the authenticity of Hitchcock's Birds. This is also supported by her portrayals of the eight actors, where with some simple but highly effective mannerisms and expressions she captures the elegance of Kelly, the liveliness of Day, the frustrations of Hedren and so on and so on.
It is Hedren's story that Johnston spends most of her show exploring, speaking of Hitchcock's obsession with her and his refusal to let her break free from her contract. Infamously, Hedren did the one thing that no one was ever allowed to do, mention his weight. Needless to say, their relationship was extremely strained during the filming of Marnie, that they communicated via a third party during the remainder of its filming. Even though Johnston doesn't specifically mention this event, you can feel the history coming through in the performance.
While Johnston had a great voice for this intimate cabaret show, a number of songs seemed out of place and didn't tie in with the events she was relaying. Her rendition of "Whatever Will Be Will Be" however, was the musical highlight of the evening.
Johnston brings these famous Hitchcock leading ladies together, as if they were attending the same dinner party. It starts of with excitement and laughs they had at the honour of performing in one of his films but slowly moves to sadness and resentment due to the controlling and dominating nature of Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock's Birds is an intriguing and thoughtful debut by Johnston with strong potential for growth.
Venue: The Butterfly Club, 5 Carson Place, Melbourne
Season: Until 26 July | Fri-Sat 7:00pm, Sunday 6:00pm
Tickets: $32 Full | $28 Conc
Bookings: The Butterfly Club
*Original review appeared on Theatre Press on 24 July