Charles Bennett’s melodramatic suspense drama became a hit 1929 film for Hitch. Now it’s back on stage – minus the first act and with a surprising ending

Perhaps it was the corner-shop setting that first drew Alfred Hitchcock’s attention to Charles Bennett’s Blackmail as the source of his 1929 film. Hitchcock had grown up above his family’s small shop in east London. He would have recognised the world of Bennett’s play, in which claustrophobic living “back stage” is combined with a whirl of local gossip “front of house” on the shop floor.

Or perhaps Hitchcock was simply drawn by the huge success of the play. It had opened in the West End in 1928 with Tallulah Bankhead incongruously cast as a young, working-class Londoner. The response in London had been mixed. But once the play went on tour it was a sensation. Its frank portrayal of female sexuality, more than a dash of male homosexuality and a questioning of the probity of the justice system drew audiences across the country. By the end of the year, multiple companies were touring the play.

Blackmail is at the Mercury theatre, Colchester, 4-19 March.

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