Festival Theatre, Thu 3 Jan, 2019.
Adapted by Carolyn Burns and directed by Simon Phillips, Adelaide Festival Centre presents Kay + McLean Productions’ North By Northwest. This production attempts to bring an action movie to the live stage, and it’s quite impressive. Famous scenes from the original Hitchcock thriller are re-enacted with the aid of massive projections and sensationally clear audio that features planes, trains, trucks and automobiles.
The plot involves an innocent advertising executive, Roger O. Thornhill, being mistaken as a spy and getting caught up in the high-risk world of counter espionage. Played with total control by Matt Day, Thornhill becomes something of a super sleuth himself when he’s confronted with a lack of meaningful intervention from local police. Things move at almost break neck speed – I doubt any scene runs for more than two minutes – and this, too, keeps things lively and entertaining.
In truth though, the plot feels a little irrelevant here. There’s little to connect us with modern day concerns – no ethical or moral dilemmas, no pointers as to how to solve current social problems – it’s all based on the simple assumption that there are good guys and bad guys (and spies) and that the good guys will win in the end. It’s purely for entertainment’s sake.
The set, and the technical aspects of staging this movie on a stage, are the real stars of the show. Modular frames that constantly slide, rise, open and close allow the illusion of offices, fields, streets and railway stations. And off to the side of the main action director Simon Phillips has curiously chosen, like a magician revealing the secrets of their tricks, to show us how the onscreen projections are done. This adds a furtive air of intrigue on occasion, and dives into outright farce with the famous climb down the faces on Mt Rushmore.
Phillips also seems to have decided to opt for comedy over suspense. They don’t need to be mutually exclusive, of course, but here the increasing frivolity mitigates against a sense of suspense that one might expect from a thriller. In the end it all seems to feel a bit like a good laugh.
Entertaining to be sure, spectacular, and ground-breaking in terms of technical achievement; this is no theatre of dissent. A strong professional cast didn’t miss a beat in an enthralling spectacle that ensured the masses went home happy.
North By Northwest continues at Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, at various times, until Sun 20 Jan.
Book at BASS on 131 246 and bass.net.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.
Images courtesy of Jeff Busby