Review: Moonlight And Magnolias

By John Nathan, August 1, 2008
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Tricycle Theatre, London NW6

Since Ron Hutchinson's play made its UK premiere at the Tricycle last year, the ill-conceived and boringly scored West End musical version of Gone With the Wind has come and, thankfully, gone.

We should be just as grateful for the return of Hutchinson's play which imagines how producer David O Selznick, writer Ben Hecht and director Victor Fleming hammered out the film script to Gone With the Wind in just five days on a diet of peanuts and bananas.

Andy Nyman as Selznick delivers one of the best pieces of acting I've seen this, and last, year.

Holmes's production has benefited from a couple of cast changes with Nicholas Woodeson - fresh from his turn as Goldberg in the Lyric Hammersmith's anniversary production of Pinter's The Birthday Party - as hack-turned-scriptwriter Ben Hecht, Rebecca Calder as Selznick's long-suffering secretary, while Steven Pacey returns as film director Victor Fleming.

It is 1939 and Selznick has lost faith in his screenplay and stopped filming Gone With the Wind at a cost of $50,000 per day. To write a new script he has summoned to his office Hecht and Fleming.

They do not have much choice. Selznick has locked the door. On a diet of "brain food" (hence the bananas and peanuts) the three set to work, with producer and director acting out scenes for Hecht who has not even read the epic novel by Margaret Mitchell on which the film is to be based.

The play's central joke lies in watching three smart men at the height of their powers reduced to exhausted gibbering wrecks. But as well as revealing the fevered process in which many a Hollywood script is produced, Hutchinson interweaves Hecht's Jewish conscience into the play.

Hecht is the only man in the room who cares about the world outside Hollywood. He harangues Selznick to help persecuted Jews in Europe with a donation to Jewish Relief. To this end he even manages to prove to Hecht that, despite the producer's power and wealth, to the average American, he is just another Jew who may one day be run out of town.

But the core of this evening is not about Jewish identity but the force of character needed to produce a movie. It is embodied by Nyman's barn-storming Selznick which transmits all the vision, ego and energy of a great Hollywood producer. (Tel: 020 7328 1000)

    Last updated: 2:57pm, July 31 2008