Tricycle Theatre, London NW6
Opened 1 October, 2007

"Oh, that was unnecessary!" tutted the matrons sitting next to me when a series of voices on a telephone line declared that one of the characters on stage was a Jew rather than an American, the unspoken premise being that one could not be both. My neighbours were wrong for two reasons. Firstly, the very fact that they felt moved to comment shows that such matters are still sensitive, and therefore issues not to be shirked. Secondly, this is the very core of Ron Hutchinson's play.

Superficially, it is a cynical comedy in which producer David O Selznick, director Victor Fleming and writer Ben Hecht spend a frenzied, claustrophobic five-day marathon trying to hammer out a shooting script for Gone With The Wind in mid-production. Again and again, however, Hecht's social commitment clashes with Selznick's commercial ambition and hunger for personal validation. It is Selznick who is dismissed as non-American, and his fellow Jew Hecht who makes the phone calls, in order to argue that even after all this time, the Jews are in Hollywood only on sufferance.

Implicit parallels and contrasts are drawn between the treatment of Jews in Europe at that time (1939) and of black people in the period of Margaret Mitchell's novel. Hecht is incredulous that they are making a movie in which the pro-slavery camp is sympathetic, the Ku Klux Klan – "That Klan?" he asks, gaping – heroic, and the heroine herself strikes a black girl. Most of the second scene is spent trying to deal with this blow, and it includes some deliberately crass "mammy" acting from Steven Pacey as Fleming. Not a matronly peep about this, though, perhaps because it is successfully sold as comedy. One of the problems with the later scene (which also includes big set-piece utterances about What Movies Are For) is precisely that it is later, and Sean Holmes has accurately directed it as such, with the characters near exhaustion so that it is all words and no real action.

Still, Duncan Bell is an articulate (if erratically accented) voice of unbelief in the project as Hecht, Andy Nyman a bustling little Napoleon as Selznick ("Hitler couldn't take the pressure of running a studio... and Stalin's too nice!"), and Josephine Butler steals her final scenes as Selznick's secretary, transformed from immaculate poise to gibbering nightmare.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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