Considered to be one of the greatest films of all time, spy thriller North By Northwest graces the Arts Centre Playhouse in a world premiere stage adaptation. Melbourne Theatre Company, in collaboration with Kay + McLean Productions, bring this stage spectacular of deception and mistaken identity to stunning life under the creative direction of Simon Phillips.
Exciting twists, turns and rapier like repartee coupled with simply amazing 21st century stage technology resurrect this Hitchcock classic starring Matt Day as Roger Thornhill and Amber McMahon as the cool and sizzling,sexy blonde, Eve Kendall.
Read on as actor Amber McMahon talks crop dusters, Mount Rushmore, feds, spies, cops and love – the deliciously delightful ingredients that make up North By Northwest.
I first started work on this project back in 2013. Simon (Phillips) ran a week’s workshop in Brisbane to see if it was in fact feasible at all to put a crop duster and Mount Rushmore on stage. Not to mention the whole spectacular turmoil of a spy thriller that sprawls across the United States.
I hadn’t seen the film in years but remember watching it in bed the night before we started and falling in love with it again. I’d been obsessed with old films growing up, particularly those of Carry Grant. They’re glamorous and charming, and the dialogue is delightfully quippy. North by Northwest has this in spades. And it’s a great thriller. All the right ingredients and in all the right places. A case of mistaken identity, a double agent Hitchcock blonde, a sleeper on the 20th Century Express with only one bed, a seductively moody score.
I did wonder if I was at the workshop as a proxy, given my long brown locks. But I adored the adventure of getting into Eve’s head, even if I wasn’t a natural blonde.
Carolyn Burns has done a superb job with the adaptation of the screenplay. It’s very true to the film but it has been crafted with all the pace and passion that two hours of live theatre demands. I think people who love the film will love the show because they get all their thrills live.
The major action sequences of the film are realised in extremely clever theatrical ways, which remind you of why theatre is so damn fun. The characters are iconic but I don’t think that makes it daunting to approach for an actor. It’s something to relish. These characters are iconic because they’re beautifully drawn. It’s wonderful to revel in the style and genre, but you discover your own truth within the character. Finding Eve is a delicious challenge because she doesn’t reveal herself to anyone.
Simon’s rehearsal room is sheer joy. It would be difficult to pick a favourite moment. He’s hilarious and warm, has the greatest vocabulary in the world, and has an incredible sense of what a scene should look and feel like. It’s very satisfying to serve such vision. And It’s a really fun, beautiful, stylish show so there’s been a lot of love in the room from the get go.
In terms of any difficulties in the production, there have certainly been some epic technical effects that have required some quality time. And there’s a few knockout staging sequences. Scaling mount Rushmore in a corset and heels is one of them. (And additional layers of exquisite costuming). But it’s how well our entire team operates as an ensemble that really creates the magic.
Transitions in and out of scenes are treated with as much panache as the scenes themselves, and these are all executed by the company of twelve who play a cast of thousands. There are some deft moments out there, with ruddy big bookcases being thrust on by cops underdressed as porters, underdressed as villains, while they dodge darting fellow cast members and large metal set structures flying in to a musical score. This is definitely a thriller that sports real danger.
The scenes between Eve and Roger have been a pleasure to work on because of the complexity of their relationship. They’re both operating on so many different levels, and there’s this incredibly sexy, mercurial negotiation at play between them. They also exchange some killer lines, and when Ian McDonald’s beautifully romantic score envelops the scene, you can’t help but feel a little weak at the knees.
There are many great lines in the play. Many. It’s hard to pick a favourite.
“I’m a big girl”
“Yeah, and in all the right places”.
That’s a rather fabulous exchange between Eve and Roger, although it does leave me yearning for the bookend later on when Eve says to Rog “You’re a big boy now”.
June 1 – July 4