In 1959, legendary director Alfred Hitchcock thrilled audiences with his film ‘North By Northwest’, a cunning tale of espionage, intrigue and murder.
Sixty years later, this now classic tale has been masterfully adapted for the stage, combining cutting edge theatrical techniques with Hitchcock’s trademark style of storytelling to create an action-packed adventure which is sure to entertain a new generation of theatregoers.
Matt Day delivers a superb performance as Roger O. Thornhill, a cocky New York advertising executive whose life is thrown into chaos when he is mistaken for another man. Amber McMahon delivers an equally impressive performance as the mysterious Eve Kendall, a woman with more than her fair share of secrets; while Jonny Pasvolsky delivers a foreboding performance as Vandamm. The three are supported by an incredibly talented cast – many of which take on multiple roles – and their ability to switch effortlessly between personas allows the story to evolve naturally; creating tension, suspense and more than a few moments of hilarity.
‘North By Northwest’ unfolds against a backdrop of simple metal frameworks (similar to those found on construction sites) and at first glance this overly simple stage design seems at odds with the rich intricacies of the story being told; but as the play unfolds this delightfully surprising set comes alive in some truly unique ways. Retractable pieces are used to change the layout of the set and their appearance, combined with clever lighting and realistic sound effects transforming the stage into train carriages, hotel rooms and more.
'North By Northwest' at QPAC in Brisbane - Image © Darren Thomas
What makes ‘North By Northwest’ truly unique is the production's use of cameras to live stream images in real time. This incredible technique projects images recorded by cameras onto a large screen behind the metal framework and essentially allows the actors to create scenery as the story unfolds. It also allows the audience to glimpse aspects of the play that might otherwise be missed, such as the content of a secret letter passed between characters or a clue uncovered by Roger. It is hard to describe this technique without giving too much away but eagle-eyed viewers will want to pay attention to the inconspicuous rooms on either side of the stage, as that is where much of the magic happens.
Playwright Carolyn Burns’ sharply written script (an adaptation of the original script by Ernest Lehman) is a brilliant combination of suspense and light comedy which keeps the tension mounting until the play's action-packed final moments. Imaginative stage design allows the cast to make use of the production's minimal props by utilising objects for multiple purposes; the results of which are both ingenious and incredibly funny. Car chases play out using nothing more than office chairs driven by crouching cast members and tables are repeatedly moved and stacked to create precarious mountain peaks (and I won’t even begin to describe how a famous American landmark was created).
With its exciting blend of action, suspense and a hint of comedy ‘North By Northwest’ is a thrilling adventure which will keep you guessing.
‘North By Northwest’ plays Adelaide Festival Centre's Festival Theatre until 20 January.