Tuesday, 2 February 2016

North By Northwest, Feb 1, 2016 ****

Adapted by Carolyn Burns from screenplay by Ernest Lehman (film by Alfred Hitchcock)
Produced by Andrew Kay & Liz McLean
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, until Feb 13, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Mon Feb 1
Stars: ****

 Matt Day & Amber McMahon

Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest is a witty chase movie blended with a spy thriller and a naughty romance and this stage adaptation successfully captures its tone and style.

Carolyn Burns’ clever script adaptation and Simon Phillips inventive direction create a deliciously entertaining and often goofy production that is a shrewd merging of cinematic and theatrical techniques.

The production is exciting, funny, imaginative and seamlessly directed by Phillips and is staged on a flexible, abstract set of stark, metal scaffolding (Simon Phillips, Nick Schlieper) that provides multiple locations when combined with cinematic rear projections.

In a case of mistaken identity, Roger O. Thornhill (Matt Day), an innocent but rakish advertising executive, is wrongly accused of murder and flees New York pursued by a ruthless spy, Phillip Vandamm (Matt Hetherington), who is smuggling government secrets out of the country.

Burns’ script balances the saucy suggestiveness of Hitchock’s style with original screenwriter Ernest Lehman’s acerbic dialogue, wry and playful humour and more restrained sensuality.

Day’s privileged and smug Thornhill echoes but does not imitate Cary Grant as he wryly delivers the abundant smart-alec quips, and he embodies some of Grant’s easy elegance, sense of entitlement and safe sensuality that is more cheeky than provocative.

Amber McMahon is cool and chic as Eve Kendall, the blonde bombshell that cunningly seduces Thornhill on a train to Chicago then proceeds to deceive and betray him to Vandamm.

Matt Hetherington is suitably oily and self-satisfied as the spy, Vandamm, although we perhaps miss the gravitas of James Mason’s on-screen depiction.

Tony Llewellyn-Jones is wonderfully distinguished as the slightly ponderous and quavering Professor while Nicholas Bell is, as always, exceptional as multiple characters, and Gina Riley is amusing as Thornhill’s haughty, well-heeled but slightly dim mother.

The rest of the ensemble (Lyall Brooks, Lucas Stibbard, Lachlan Woods, Sheridan Harbridge, Ian Bliss, Leon Cain) peoples the stage with a parade of quirky characters, crooks, passers-by and assorted oddballs. 
Composer, Ian McDonald, provides evocative music that blends perfectly with Bernard Hermann’s soaring, dramatic score from the movie.

By using complex stage lighting (Schlieper), complex film projections and modern blue screen technology to create special effects, this stage production is able to travel across the same bold, broad landscapes seen in Hitchcock’s movie.

All the illusions of the cinema are on the stage for us so we can thrill to Thornhill running desperately along an isolated highway pursued by a crop dusting plane then we can shriek as the plane crashes into an oil tanker.

This production succeeds because it channels the sassiness, wit and elegance of Hitchcock’s 1959 film and references the period of the movie while transforming it into contemporary entertainment.

By Kate Herbert

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