In Double Feature, John Logan posits that the behind-the-scenes action is every bit as fascinating as what we see on the screen. Logan has spent decades in this particular demi-monde having written the screenplays for two Bond movies and worked with Ridley Scott and Martin Scorsese and he shows his deep understanding of his world through two interlinked imagined conversations-slash-confrontations between real-life stars of the Sixties.

The first between English twenty-something director Michael Reeves (Rowan Polonski) and his experienced lead actor Vincent Price (Jonathan Hyde). The enfant terrible would have preferred Donald Pleasance but the moneymen instead gave him the king of schlock horror epics, many leaning on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. The young man rails against his star’s campy delivery and his constant clashes on the set of Witchfinder General lead the American to declare that he is leaving the picture and heading home. In a last desperate move to save his movie, Reeves invites Price for dinner in order to plea his case.

The second pairing have the same nationalities but switches the age gap. This time, a sixty-something Alfred Hitchcock (Ian MacNeice) welcomes Tippi Hedren (mother of Melanie Griffiths, grandmother to Dakota Johnson, played here by Joanna Vanderham) who starred in his The Birds. The director is besotted to the point of obsession but conceals his desires inside an elaborate meal and a script readthrough, neither of which his leading lady is particularly interested in.

There are a number of clever theatrical conceits here. Although these tête-à-têtes happened a few years and many thousands of miles apart, Logan sets them in the same cottage and kitchen. At one point, all four sit around the same table carrying out their overlapping discussions but the metaphorical spotlight moves from one to the other with solid pacing, making sure we are engaged in both stories equally.

The power plays are underscored by some layered characterisations. Price is shown as a man of the world who sees cinema as one art form among many and more as a means to filling his bank account than his heart. Reeves - who died soon after making his film - instead has a more intense view, seeing the silver screen as the ultimate way to view the world. “It’s all lies!” says the former; “it’s honest lies!” responds the latter. Their verbal battles roll around and around like boxers going the full twelve rounds until Reeves lands a heavy blow. Price snarls: "Young man, I have made eighty-four films. What have you done?" The reply? "I've made two good ones."

Hitchcock and Hedren have a less openly combative exchange, albeit one with rather more at stake than a film. The auteur finds increasingly clear ways to keep her in his company and express his feelings while the actress brushes them all aside with a queasy ease and tries to find her own way out of this situation. Ultimately, Alfred gives her only two choices: end up naked on his bed or out there searching for a new career.

Jonathan Kent’s direction is assured for the most part with a sagging back third. His positioning of the actors sometimes affects what we can see and hear but he ensures that the most cutting lines land like bombs. Kent’s Tosca is currently playing at the Royal Opera House and his handling of both are exquisite in showing the effect of raw desperation, pure lust and utter terror.

The issues at play here may not be original but the sharpness of the dialogue and the acting demands the attention. Polonski and Vanderham give earnest performances while Hyde’s tempestuous delivery and MacNeice’s macabre manner eat up the stage in very different ways.

Double Feature continues at Hampstead Theatre until 16 March.

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan