Mtc are headed in the right direction with this stunning world premiere of Hitchcock’s film classic North by Northwest. The thrills and spills of the 1959 film which starred Cary Grant are brought to life on Arts Centre stage ingeniously by erstwhile Mtc artistic director, Simon Phillips, through use of clever, moving visual projections and a very competent cast.
All the narrative elements and features of the film are carefully included in this two-hour rendition of the film starring Matt Day playing the main character, Roger O. Thornhill, with the right mix of vulnerability, sexiness and brainpower. The program notes state that writer, Carolyn Burns, was determined to adapt the film to the stage by paying homage to all its features and wanted to avoid turning it into any sort of spoof. She successfully achieves this faithfulness, injecting the right sort of tension in the right places and including all the memorable characters from the film without making them too larger than life.
The spy-thriller story is true gangster meets innocent victim with a splash of romance to boot with Amber McMahon embodying the typical 1950s sex siren, Eve Kendall, who is more than meets the eye. McMahon’s sultry voice and cat-like walk worked perfectly for the part and her performance is a stand-out.
The real feature of the show though was the use of the projections onto the cyclorama. All those famous scenes that you could feel the audience waiting for with anticipation were masterfully presented with the actors blending in with the projected action-packed visuals. Scenes which showed Thornhill rushing in and out of train carriages, his drunken car ride, him being attacked by a crop-duster plane and of course, his Mount Rushmore climb. The audience was thrilled with this blend of stage and screen as just the right balance was made by audio-visual designer Josh Burns. At each side of the stage, visible to the audience, were tables which sat small models of cars, trucks and planes all of which were projected via small camera onto the cyclorama to produces those well-loved film scenes. It was a wonderful bit of stagecraft by model makers Charlie Davis and Owen Phillips. It is worth a ticket just to see this in action.
The cast displayed their skills at playing many different characters and it was Deirdre Rubenstein who played all of her plum roles with her usual flair. Her Mrs Thornhill was a tough old bird, never one to suffer fools. Matt Hetherington played the treacherous Phillip Vandamm, his debonair persona successfully belying his criminal nastiness. Hetherington’s accent was a hoot. All other members of the class did the very best in engendering the Hitchcock thriller genre.
North by Northwest is generally thought of as the first feature film to used kinetic typography in its opening credits and set designer, Simon Phillips and Nick Schlieper, ensured they made reference to this by including it in the opening moments of the play in a way which was nifty and visually effective. It was good to see the cameo of Alfred Hitchcock appear earlier on as well, the audience waiting for this to occur, it being a feature most of Hitchcock’s films. The original film music (Bernard Hermann) was used throughout the production which further added to the 1950s feel.
This is a faultless production and one that will warm and wow audiences during this Melbourne winter. It is a great homage to one of the masters of filmmaking. It is an exceptional feat to adapt this film onto the stage. It had the right mix of nostalgia, fun and glamour. The magic of film and theatre do collide so successfully in this production.