REVIEW: Return Season of NORTH BY NORTHWEST

Seeking the adventure again

By Caitlin McGrane

The reimagined Hitchcock classic North by Northwest gets an excellent presentation at the Melbourne Arts Centre after its fantastically successful run in 2015.

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For those who don’t know, the story is that of Roger O. Thornhill (Matt Day), Madison Avenue advertising executive mistaken for the mysterious George Kaplan in The Plaza Hotel in New York; thus setting in motion a chain of events that takes Thornhill to the United Nations, Chicago, and Mount Rushmore. His partner in crime is Eve Kendall (Amber McMahon), an enigmatic femme fatale with whom Thornhill forms an instant connection on a train.

Writer Carolyn Burns and director Simon Phillips really have done a terrific job of bringing the classic film to the stage; Burns has successfully managed to tread the very fragile line between appreciating and replicating the original, especially given it is such a well-loved text. Hitchcock’s contemporality is appropriately heightened through clever direction from Phillips, so some of the uncomfortable and backwards politics of the 1950s can be seen through a modern lens.

The ensemble cast, comprised of Nicholas Bell, Ian Bliss, Lyall Brooks, Leon Cain, Sheridan Harbridge, Matt Hetherington, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Gina Riley, Lucas Stibbard and Lachlan Woods are all clearly having a ball. Harbridge, Llewellyn Jones and Riley all delivered standout performances, providing just the right number of nods and winks to the audience and some truly excellent accents. It would perhaps have been nice to see more chemistry between the two leads, and it sometimes felt to me like McMahon’s Eve was not as self-assured as her silver screen counterpart. But these minor critiques did not hamper my enjoyment of their respective performances.

It would be extraordinarily remiss of me not to mention the exceptional creative work from the backstage team. Nick Schlieper’s lighting and set design were joyously clever and funny, Ian McDonald’s composition and sound design catapulted me back in time to my first screening of North by Northwest, while Josh and Jess Burns’ innovative and hilarious use of video really stole the show. I shall never see Mount Rushmore the same way ever again.

To have a bad time watching North by Northwest would be an extremely difficult thing, and while this may seem like damning with faint praise I really would be surprised if anyone came out of seeing this production feeling anything but contented. Sometimes what I need is a big sugary treat from the theatre, and North by Northwest delivered deliciously comforting familiarity in spades. This is the second time I’ve seen the production, and it is the combination of joy, self-awareness and fun that makes this such a pleasure to watch.

North by Northwest is now showing at The State Theatre at the Arts Centre until 13 February 2016. More information and tickets from: https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/theatre-drama/north-by-northwest-2016

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