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Theatre Review: North By Northwest is a tribute to Hitchcock’s genius

Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller North By Northwest is said to be one of the greatest films ever made. It’s about an advertising executive who gets caught up in an international spy drama in the middle of the cold war. Now, Auckland Theatre Company has brought a very slick, and innovative theatrical version of the story to the stage. 

From the very first moments this is an energetic and well-executed story that is a pleasure to watch. It follows the plot of the film faithfully, and is actually quite ‘filmic’ in its delivery. The set consists of steel and glass walls that form a scaffolding of sorts to the side, and walls across the stage that can be lowered or raised as required. At the back of the stage is a huge projection screen which is very cleverly used to show larger scenes and even close ups of props.

Together with the live action between the cast, this presents a very expansive and versatile set that can change according to mood, and location. I won’t spoil the fun by explaining exactly how the projections are created, but they are quite spectacular and provide a starring role in themselves. 

The entire design of the set, costuming, and music create a feel that is sumptuous. The pace of the action is often unrelenting, and the talented cast bring it all together in a dazzlingly flawless way. 

It is remarkable to note that the original film had a cast of 28 people, and that didn’t include extras. In this stage production there are only twelve cast members, and with the exception of Ryan O’Kane they all play multiple characters including those innumerable ‘extra’ roles. Many of them also produce most of the live special effects that are projected on the back screen.

The two leading roles are Roger Thornhill and the blonde bombshell Eve Kendall. These two characters need to be strong and believable. Ryan O’Kane is perfect as the charming, wise-cracking ad exec. He evokes that ‘leading man’ role with a buoyant masculinity which never tips into machismo.  Opposite him is the bewitching Antonia Prebble who is his equal in confidence and plays Eve with a gorgeous mixture of vampishness, heroism, and vulnerability. 

The play is of course a drama, but it is also a gentle parody of the film. There are subtle and not so subtle digs at the original production in terms of style and the deliberate but mildly melodramatic delivery of much of the dialogue. What this creates is a delicious cocktail of comedy and exciting adventure.  

North By Northwest is a captivating, seductive and impressively executed piece of theatre that is a glorious tribute to Hitchcock’s genius.

Picture credit – Andi Crown

NORTH BY NORTHWEST

25th October – 19th November 2022

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