Tag: Hitchcock

INTERVIEW: North By Northwest’s SIMON PHILLIPS and CAROLYN BURNS

Screen-to-stage hit returns, as creators share their insights with Theatre Press

By Caitlin McGrane

Simon Phillips and Carolyn Burns, the marvellous creative team behind Kay + McLean Productions’ outstanding production of North by Northwest graciously agreed to be interviewed by me over Skype. As the show returns at The Arts Centre for two weeks only from 29 January I was keen to know about how the production came together, what their creative processes had been and what their next project will be.

North by Northwest.jpg

Theatre Press: Can you tell me a little about the production process and what it was like working with the MTC?
Simon Phillips: Well, I used to run the MTC for so long, so I love the MTC and everyone’s my friend, you see…
Carolyn Burns: … Yes, they’re always very gracious about the demands…
SP: And it’s lovely working with the MTC because [North By Northwest] was quite a big project and they took it on with enthusiasm and they were such big supporters. And before that we’d actually had it developed: it had been commissioned by Andrew Kay in Brisbane while we were trying to get all the video concept to come together. We couldn’t really proceed with confidence until we had that sorted out, because so much of putting the production together was unproblematic, but that really was something we had to get right. We did a lot of development with QPAC (Queensland Performance Arts Centre) and then with the MTC itself.
TP: Yes I can imagine that must’ve been quite involved as a process.
CB: The workshop we did in Brisbane we only got up to the airplane scene. It was really about Simon getting the style right before I even started writing, in a way. Because I knew the work and had done a lot of studying and knew the angle I wanted to take, so until Simon worked with Audio/Visual Artist Josh Burns on how to do those scenes… Simon and Josh came up with some brilliant concepts – I think Josh came up with the Lazy Susan.
TP: Can you tell me a little about how you adapted the film for the stage? Did you use any footage of the film? And was it very hard to obtain the rights for that footage?
SP: Well we actually didn’t use any of the footage from the original film. Although one of the main issues we had, was that Mount Rushmore is a copyrighted image so we had to find a creative solution to incorporating that. I always think that if you’re going to adapt a film for the stage there has to be a point of difference because if you’re showing parts of the film on stage you’re essentially saying that the film is unadaptable.
CB: The only real difference was that I wanted to make a tribute to Rear Window, which is one of my favourite films. So, starting off the production looking into people’s windows and getting a slight hint on who they were and what they were doing. The mother playing cards, one of them cleaning the gun, and getting a feel of the spies.
TP: I feel like the script and the way that the play pans out is a tribute to Hitchcock in a lot of ways it incorporates a lot of his themes and his unique visions. Would you agree?
CB: Oh well, I would. I studied [North by Northwest] at film school when I was a student from an art-direction point of view; I did fall in love with his wonderful way of shotlisting, and his take on life and his subtexts, and his mad, mad mind. My job really was to assume that no-one in the audience had ever seen the film, so it could still tell the story if they hadn’t seen the film. And Simon’s was to do everything else; he created the most beautiful set design.
TP: Can you tell me a little about your creative vision? And do you think you were able to realise that vision?
SP: I know it sounds too easy but Liza McLean [from Kay and McLean Productions] said to us after it had opened that it had perfectly realised what we had described and how it was going to work. But it’s funny because I really had to work out the design in order to say with confidence ‘yes I have a way of staging this.’ Actually I only realised the other day when I came across some early sketches that it did go through a hell of a lot of permutations. The two most difficult scenes were the cropduster and Mount Rushmore, and it was those two scenes that we had to make sure we were on top of before we even started. And Carolyn was very interested in the East versus West thing, spy versus spy.
CB: Yes. my favourite line is the whole thing is when Roger, the Carey Grant figure, says ‘you’re as bad as each other.’ And I just thought ‘both countries’ and I think it’s still the same and it’s still completely relevant today, wouldn’t you?
TP: I would completely agree. One of the great things about Hitchcock is that he is so contemporary and still so relevant today. For instance Eve is given her own character arc, she’s not a femme fetale, she has her own character development.
SP: Oh yes and she’s incredibly witty and very contemporary, which is so great and she is much more than a match for [Roger].
CB: And it also shows the development of one of the original Mad Men [Roger] who starts shallow and ends up slightly deeper. I did really enjoy writing for the mother, and in doing so making [Roger] even more of a mummy’s boy. We’re very lucky that Gina Riley has taken on that role.
TP: I just have one final question, Carolyn you mentioned your time at film school, I was wondering if you could give me a brief overview of your journey to the stage.
CB: Well, because I spent a lot of my childhood reading I found that writing was something that came fairly naturally to me and when I was 9 I wrote my first musical. Then I began writing little pieces for the newspaper; I didn’t really begin writing properly until I went to university in Auckland with Simon, where I wrote my first adult play. I’ve had a very long and complicated journey and in some way it has been a sideline to bringing up four children. I learned from Alan Plater while I was at film school that there is a real art to adaptation. But this one, North by Northwest, is really all about the style. Simon and I haven’t worked together that much but it is lovely to work with him now.
TP: That’s wonderful, thank you very much for your time. Best of luck with the next run of North by Northwest and with the opening of Ladies in Black.

North by Northwest is showing at the Arts Centre in Melbourne from 29 January to 10 February 2016. For tickets and more information visit : https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/theatre-drama/north-by-northwest-2016
Ladies in Black is showing at the Melbourne Theatre Company from 16 January to 27 February 2016. For tickets and more information visit: http://www.mtc.com.au/plays-and-tickets/season-2016/ladies-in-black/

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REVIEW: HIT Productions Presents THE 39 STEPS

Cast of four fuel this fabulous farce

By Lyn Collet

Adapted by Patrick Barlow from an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon, this beloved British romp is based on the 1935 Hitchcock spy thriller movie and novel by John Buchan. The London’s West End production is currently the longest running comedy. The 39 Steps begins with Richard Hannay, an innocent man, learning too much about a dangerous spy ring and being pursued across Scotland before returning to London to foil the villain’s dastardly plans.

The 39 Steps

This return season touring production features over a hundred characters played by four very versatile and competent actorsMike Smith (who plays the hero Hannay), whilst Anna Burgess, Sam Haft and Michael Lindner are kept busy cleverly portraying the rest of the hilarious ensemble.

Having previously seen the famous West End production, a few of the memorable comedic moments were missed in this re-staged version, but director Terence O’Connell has made this a fast moving, very funny show with simple, but very effective sets and props by Jacob Battista and with lighting by designer Jason Bovaird.

Costume designer Kim Bishop has produced just the right outfits for the very quick changes needed for the very humorous characters and settings, while choreographer Alana Scanlan has created some very well-rehearsed choreography with great physical and comic timing.

This is indeed a “jolly good show”, and it is unfortunate that there are only 4 final Melbourne performances on this tour.

The 39 Steps will be playing at the Athenaeum Theatre – Thursday 2 October at 7.30 pm, Friday 3 October at 7.30 pm and Saturday 4 October 2 pm and 7.30 pm.

Bookings: 03 9650 1500

Ticketek: 132 849 / www.ticketek.com.au

REVIEW: Dangerous Lenses for MELBOURNE FRINGE

Neighbourhood watching

By Myron My

We all have them: the nosy neighbours who watch your every move from their living room window. They notice when you come home late one night or spot you putting your rubbish in someone else’s bin. They see who comes and who goes. Ann is that person. In Dangerous Lenses she spies a new tenant moving into her building with a young girl who he later denies was there. This leads Ann to believe the girl is suffering from neglect and abuse by her father, and she sets out to rescue her.

Written by Brooke Robinson, the script has strong elements of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window yet still retains its own sense of originality and a good dose of intrigue. The language used is very descriptive and elicits many visual imaginings from the audience.

Dangerous Lenses

The gradual descent of Ann is paced well and we are given the right amount of information as we need it, both to progress the story and also to start making our own decisions about what is happening or what may happen.

Adding to the tight script was Ekrem Mulayim’s impressive sound design and composition. Many times, it blended in and flowed with the dialogue and action so seamlessly that I didn’t even notice it had started or finished. It amplified the tension on stage wonderfully and helped add that extra layer of sophistication into the production.

Being a one-person play, there is always significant pressure on the actor to ensure you are able to carry the play and meet the demands of the character and Meredith Penman is more than able to do this. She disappears into Ann and her transformation from seemingly nice but prying neighbour to someone whose mental state slowly begins to unravel is subtle and gradual yet takes sudden and unexpected directions. She plays the character’s neuroses well and imbues Ann with the right amount of pathos right up until the climactic end.

Dangerous Lenses is an elegant and gripping piece of theatre and it’s a real shame that its season has ended because it really is one of my top choices for this year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival.