North By Northwest

Was there a better way to see in New Year’s Eve than being at the Adelaide Festival Centre watching the critically acclaimed stage adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest? If so, I wasn’t aware of it.  The show was an ambitious undertaking, one of Alfred Hitchcock’s finest films, with a star-studded cast in exotic locations around America with, for the time, impressive visual effects.

Reading about the history of the production, they seemed to have pulled it off, it was a hit during the 2015 Melbourne Theatre Company Season and had sell out seasons in the United Kingdom and Canada.  When I arrived at the Festival Centre the New Year’s Eve celebrations were being set up in Elder Park, ready for the New Year’s Eve fireworks providing a festive backdrop to evening.

In addition to the performance, there was an exhibition of the history of Alfred Hitchcock’s career as a director, with photographs, costumes, movie posters and other ephemera set up in the foyer.  It’s well worth a look and gives you an idea of the sheer volume of his work, which spanned fifty years of film making.  After enjoying a drink and browsing the exhibition the bells rang and we filed into a full house.

The stage was encapsulated by a grid of steel girders, which captured the feeling of 1950s American modernist architecture.  It was cleverly used to capture and transport the audience around New York and across America throughout the play, with some innovative stagecraft.

Matt Day had a big role to play, as Roger O. Thornhill, the advertising executive mistaken for a spy by the insidious and evil Vandamm and his coterie of thugs and agents. The role was originally played by Cary Grant, and Matt Day captured his insouciant charm and confidence perfectly.  Jonny Pavolsky was fantastic as the ruthless secret agent Vandamm as he sparred with Roger Thornhill throughout the film.

The stagecraft and set changes were very cleverly done.  At times you could see actors operating miniature vehicles, scenery and other props in front of live cameras, from the steel grid on the wings of the sets.  This was then projected onto the back of the stage, providing a live backdrop for the actors.  It was a very clever and innovative use of technology which captured the techniques and feeling of the classic silver screen in a live theatre setting.

Amber McMahon played Eve Kendall, the femme fatale and counter intelligence agent of a shadowy government agency.  The on-stage chemistry with Roger Thornhill was sizzling and evocative of the original film.  As the performance progressed to the dramatic climax on Mount Rushmore, the faces of the presidents were depicted as live faces of the actors which provided a light-hearted moment to the suspense.  The final cliffhanger had Thornhill and McMahon clambering over a moving arrangement of steel frames, fleeing Vandamm’s chief thug Leonard.

The whole production was on point, the costumes, props and stagecraft really captured the feeling of the times and the film and it translated wonderfully to live theatre.  It was a fantastic performance, and I highly recommend it.

After the show, the Festival Centre put on a party, and the balcony provided a perfect viewing platform for the midnight fireworks.  The stars of the show came and mingled with the crowds which added to the personal experience, which only live theatre can provide.  In summary, it was a very memorable night at the theatre, which had the full experience, exceptional performances, glamour, culture, history and an excellent party afterwards to boot!

Live Review by Jeremy Watkinson

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