Reviews, News and Commentary

North by Northwest takes a comic turn

Review by John Daly-Peoples

Antonia Prebble (Eve Kendall) and Ryan O’Kane (Roger O. Thornhill) Image Andi Crown

North by Northwest

Written by Carolyn Burns

Screenplay Ernest Lehman

Directed by Simon Phillips

Auckland Theatre Company

Auckland Waterfront Theatre

Until November 19

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

“Roger. This is silly”

So says Eve Kendall to Roger Thornhill after being rescued off the face of Mt Rushmore at the end of “North By Northwest”. the latest production at Auckland Theatre Company.

She is right. The whole play seems to be a bit silly, continually turning the dramatic events which occur throughout the play which have been lifted from the film into comic moments.

The play follows the movie scene by scene and also word for word. Just in case you haven’t seen the movie the plot concerns Roger Thornhill (Ryan O’Kane) a twice-divorced New York advertising executive who is mistaken for a man named George Kaplan and abducted by criminal masterminds. He escapes their clutches and a thrilling chase ensues taking him from New York to Chicago and all the way to South Dakota.

Over this time he is variously force-fed bourbon, arrested, beaten up, seduced, shot, pursued and nearly blown up by a plane and then chased across the stone heads of the presidents at Mount Rushmore.

What was a spine-tingling drama  has been turned by director Simon Phillips into a witty romp which takes all the tropes of the chase / espionage movie and gives them a comic twist.

In many ways the approach emulates Hitchcock’s own style of working with humour not far from the dramatic action and although Roger Thornhill  is an ordinary man caught up in  events out of his control, he also demonstrates a few James Bond qualities.

Phillips and designer Nick Schlieper’s set uses simple props on wheels, supported by a square metallic grid of walls that becomes doors, balconies and the edges of buildings. On either side of the set are production suites where miniatures are filmed and projected onto the rear of the stage to enhance the on-stage action. Car chases are filmed using a rotating model hillside, a model plane replaces the biplane from the film and four of the actors faces replace the presidents on Mount Rushmore.

Image: Andi Crown

Cary Grant who played the original Thornhill with a mixture of bafflement and nonchalance but in the play Ryan O’Kane goes for more of the utterly panicked as he races from disater to disater with a pace  and animation which is riveting.

Antonia Prebble  in the role of the femme fatale  Eve Kendall, the professional spy and part-time seductress is totally convincing and an ideal foil to O’Kane.,

The other ten members of the cast paly a myriad of roles from cops, train steward, FBI agent, clerks, auction-goers with Roy Snow as the arch villain   Philip Vandamm,

In the effort to mimic all the scenes from the film the play suffers occasionally from some unnecessary  and overly hectic scenes. At least the actors haven’t spoilt the fun by trying out bad American accents.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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