North by Northwest moved in Melbourne from workshop to intimate theatre to a large theatre, the process beginning in 2012. It was not an easy adaptation – one of the problems (as it was for Hitchcock) being how to maintain suspense while "sending up" the action. Does it succeed? I'm pretty sure that most of the opening night audience in Brisbane would say that it does.
Those of us who loved the original Hitchcock movie will love the way that most of the plot twists and turns are retained. As the program notes tell us:
Roger O. Thornhill is a suave and successful advertising executive, abducted by thugs who insist he is a man called George Kaplan. Chaos ensues. When they don't believe him, that's infuriating. When they try to kill him, that's frightening. And when they pin a murder on him, that's time to run! Thornhill is chased by spies, Feds, crop-dusting planes and the inevitable cool blonde.
The unsung heroes of the play are the technicians and stage designers. More than a little tongue in cheek, they recreate car chases, train journeys, perilous rock climbing, fine art auctions, plane crashes – you name it in the movie and it appears on stage, though maybe not in the way you expect.
Matt Day, as Roger O. Thornhill, channels Clarke Gable brilliantly – elegantly suited and with excellent action hero and comedic timing. There is more than a little of early James Bond in this performance, particularly as his off-sider (Amber McMahon as Eve Kendall) is able in these more liberated days to unleash devastating amounts of sexual chemistry – Mata Hari meets Marilyn Monroe. That aside, she channels (and sends up) a 1950 era femme fatale - a more modern plot would give her more to do.
It is hard to believe that there are only eight actors in the play, as they dash on and off stage in a mind-dazzling array of parts – with split-second timing they morph into crowd scenes, news cameos, and curious onlookers.
Add the back-projection, brilliant lighting effects, music and sound to the non-stop movement and action and we end up with a thoroughly entertaining evening which could only work given a superb cast and stage crew.
Your aged reviewer and his twenty-something fellow critic both absolutely loved North by North West.
****"Brilliantly reimagined … A-grade entertainment." Herald Sun
****** "Hitchcock's glamorous thriller … Slick, wry, clever!" Daily Mail, UK
****** "Ingenious ... a recreation of the stylish thriller, but with filmic devices that add to the live fun." Toronto Now, Canada
North by Northwest heads to Adelaide after the Brisbane season:
Dates: 29 Dec 2018 – 20 Jan 2019 Venue: Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Road, Adelaide SA 5000 Tickets: www.bass.net.au or 131 246