Review: North by Northwest – Sydney Lyric Theatre (NSW)

Adapted by Carolyn Burns, Directed by Simon Phillips

Reviewed by Justin Clarke

Adapted from Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 classic film, North by Northwest is a thrill ride of a performance that uses every trick in the theatrical book to transport audiences back to a bygone era.

When Roger O. Thornhill (David Campbell), a twice-divorced New York advertising executive, is mistaken for a man named George Kaplan and abducted by thugs, a thrilling chase ensues. From New York to Chicago and all the way to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, director Simon Phillips brings laughs, thrills, and cheesiness to the production.

Phillips and Nich Schlieper’s set design uses simple props on wheels, supported by a square metallic grid of walls that raise up and down to become doors, balconies and the edges of buildings. On either side of the set sits a blue and red production studio where miniatures bring cinema scale video projections to the back of the stage in real time. A toy sized plane becomes a thrilling fly-by death strike on Thornhill as he ducks and hides amongst a cornfield, a line of trees is passed around and around to present the moving fields from a train, and (most hilariously) four actors heads are superimposed to become the four presidents of the Mount Rushmore memorial.

With the title sequences claiming the show is presented by “a cast of thousands”, you’d be forgiven for believing it to be true. Each cast member dons a variety of hats (literally and metaphorically) to play the many characters that weave this story together.

For those of us unfamiliar with Hitchcock, this is a unique introduction to his cinematic style. A charming, charismatic leading man with the sharpest of wits, a blonde seductress with secrets below the surface, and a beautifully orchestral soundtrack building tension and emotion throughout. Hitchcock’s famously recognisable profile even makes a cameo.

Phillips’ love of the ‘golden age of cinema’ is clear through set and directorial choices. A title is lowered from a metallic rig like an old cinema, with the actors pulling off and rearranging Hitchcock’s name before it is eventually spelt right. Coming on and off, actors push and pull chairs to mimic moving vehicles and even roll in and out on skateboards to offer spotlights where the stage cannot reach. We are invited to enjoy the pure light-hearted fun that Phillips has infused in the show.

David Campbell shines as Roger Thornhill, a suave leading man with a thick 1950s New York accent. Campbell is charming, hilarious and athletic as he convincingly leads us through each chase. Also aware of the inherent campness of the production, Campbell pokes fun at the exaggerated ridiculousness at the pronouncements of some dialogue and shows conviction when faced with situations that could have been ridiculous in another’s hands. Right up to the final lines of the production where the lovers kiss and the camera slowly fades to black, it is Campbell’s commitment that really sells the show.

It’s not only Campbell though that brings an honest commitment to the show however. With the title sequences claiming the show is presented by “a cast of thousands”, you’d be forgiven for believing it to be true. Each cast member dons a variety of hats (literally and metaphorically) to play the many characters that weave this story together.

Amber McMahon’s Eve Kendall is seductive and alluring as if taken straight out of Hitchcock’s original film. Bert Labonté plays a calm but ominous villain in Phillip Van Damm. And Genevieve Lemon brings hilarity to the jittery mother Mrs Dinah Thornhill and her multiple other roles.

The production shines its brightest when it leans into the silliness and fun of its premise. With a film that is almost 60 years old, it may not be known or appreciated by everyone, but there is enough theatrical magic to bring A-grade entertainment that has something for everyone.

North by Northwest is a thrillingly entertaining night of theatre. With a committed cast and ingeniously creative mix of cinema and theatre magic, the production will take you on a chase to be remembered.

Reviewer Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Images by Daniel Boud

North by Northwest plays at the Sydney Lyric Theatre until 3rd April 2022. Tickets can by at Ticketmaster via the link here. Follow all the social media of the production on Instagram – @nbnwtheplay

Director Simon Phillips
Playwright Carolyn Burns
Costume Designer Esther Hayes
Lighting Designer Nick Schlieper
Associate Director Jessica Burns
Audio Visual Designer Josh Burns
Audio Visual Specialist Richard Dinnen
Composer Ian McDonald

David Campbell
Amber McMahon
Bert Labonté
Genevieve Lemon
Berynn Schwerdt
Dorje Swallow
Kaeng Chan
Lachlan Woods
Nicholas Bell
Sharon Millerchip
Tony Llewellyn-Jones
Wadih Dona
Alex Rathgeber
Caroline Craig
Douglas Hansell

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