Theatre Review: North By Northwest

Alfred Hitchcock was (and probably still is) thought of as the ‘Master of Suspense’ when it comes to films. Simon Phillips is certainly one of the ‘Masters’ when it comes to directing stage shows, especially those that have an extremely entertaining appeal to a wide range of audiences. So, it is rather fitting that there has been a very successful teaming of the two talents to produce this wonderful and highly entertaining stage adaptation of North By Northwest.

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Presented by Adelaide Festival Centre Trust
Reviewed 31 Dec 2018

Alfred Hitchcock was (and probably still is) thought of as the ‘Master of Suspense’ when it comes to films. Simon Phillips is certainly one of the ‘Masters’ when it comes to directing stage shows, especially those that have an extremely entertaining appeal to a wide range of audiences. So, it is rather fitting that there has been a very successful teaming of the two talents to produce this wonderful and highly entertaining stage adaptation of North By Northwest. The 1950s film is this reviewer’s favourite Hitchcock offering, and now this production is my favourite non-musical stage show.

The witty, classic ‘wrong man’ (an innocent becomes involved by accident in dangerous situations) screenplay by Ernest Lehman has been treated very faithfully by Carolyn Burns’ very accurate blow-by-blow adaptation. We get all the humour, romance and danger – including the very famous crop-duster attack scene and the Mount Rushmore presidential face scrambling finale.

To achieve all this authenticity to the movie, Simon Phillips doesn’t so much direct as skillfully and stylishly choreographs his brilliant ensemble of actors (Nicholas Bell, Ezra Cain, Tom Davey, Matt Day, Peter Houghton, Robert Menzies, Abigail McKern, Amber McMahon, Christen O’Leary, Jonny Pasvolsky and Roddy Peters). The actors also work as the stage crew and most of them are even puppeteers.

In the Cary Grant role, Day is sensational. Appearing on stage for a good 99 per cent of the time, he never flags and has all of Grant’s charm and drollness without ever resorting to impersonating him. McMahon makes a stunning femme fatale in the Jean Seberg role; Pasvolsky is the suave James Mason villain and could easily make a wonderfully understated Bond villain; Menzies is appropriately deadpan in the role made famous by Leo G Carroll; whilst McKern steals the show every time she appears as Day’s mother.

The atmosphere of the movie is achieved through the help of Phillips’ and Nick Schlieper’s grid-like set design mirroring the grid design used in the title sequence of the film (even though the title sequence in this production is hilariously better), and Ian McDonald’s compositions and soundscapes, utilising a lot of Bernard Herrmann’s original film score (and why not, it’s brilliant!).

This entire production is extremely clever, marvellously quirky, wonderfully tongue-in-cheek at times, and above all very entertaining. ‘Hitch’ would be proud – and yes, he even does one of his famous cameo appearances.

Reviewed by Brian Godfrey
Twitter: @briangods

Venue: Adelaide Festival Theatre
Season: Until 20 Jan 2019

 

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