This evening I witnessed a piece of history, an untold piece of history, a heartbreaking piece of history. The Screenwriter’s Daughter is factually based on the lives of American screenwriter Ben Hecht and his daughter Jenny. Hecht is an unknown name to many due to his tendency to accept money in exchange for loosing credit in the movies that he wrote for. He is a great in many eyes, writing for the likes of Hitchcock, but content with being out of the limelight; as long as it meant an affluent lifestyle for himself and his family.
This lifestyle, excessive and impressive to most, is repulsed and unwanted by his young and defiant daughter Jenny. Hecht, now nearing the end of his life, is happy to have created a legacy that is his daughter describing her as his greatest creation. However Jenny, having grown up having everything she wanted, but being so aware of the poverty that lay in the rest of the world, rebels against her own upbringing, hating the Hollywood lifestyle of that she has been raised.
The play centres around her request for approval from Hecht to follow the Living People’s Theatre, a company renowned for their performances of public profanities and riot causing acts of sexual theatre, to England where they hope to rally up support for their manifesto of free love and equality, their aim being to create a people’s revolt among the youth of England bringing down all governments.
Although this play focuses on the telling of the stories of these two people, the beauty and heart of this play is the tale of the relationship between a father and a daughter. Hecht adores his only child and wants to protect her by keeping her within the rich and privileged life to which she is accustomed. They are remarkably close, as she knows the lines of all of his films, and their likeness in attitude and humour is like to one person.That is the flaw in this beautiful relationship: they are too similar.
In his youth, Hecht rebelled against the status quo; Jenny wants the same. Her defiance and strong self-will is infallible and unyielding. But the tragedy of this tale is Jenny. Both Jenny the girl and Jenny the woman. At the age of 17, she suffers horrific sexual abuse and with no one to whom she can speak to she turns to the controversial and dangerous company that is the Living People’s Theatre. From here, her fate is sealed and we painfully witness the demise of not only the relationship between herself and her father, but the complete and cruel demise of her own body.
This impressive four handed was tackled with an enormous amount of sensitivity and sincerity. There were no weak links and no breaks for the audience’s mind to wander. The four captivating actors told a tale about far more than just the lives of two famous American people. It was more than a history lesson, but the painful account of a man slowly losing his daughter to life.
The Screenwriter’s Daughter is playing at Leicester Square Theatre until 29 November. For more information and tickets, see Leicester Square Theatre website. Photo by Henika Thompson.