North by Northwest

Amber-McMahon-and-David-Campbell-in-the-2022-Sydney-production-of-North-by-Northwest-photo-by-Daniel-BoudWith the opening of the brilliant Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour production of The Phantom of the Opera this week, Sydney audiences have the opportunity to see two examples of the work of Director, Simon Phillips and Lighting designer, Nick Schlieper.

Originally devised for presentation during the Melbourne Theatre Company’s 2015 season, this clever stage adaptation of the 1959 classic Alfred Hitchcock American spy film, North by Northwest, directed by Simon Phillips with lighting design by Nick Schlieper and stage setting designed by both Phillips and Schlieper, proved so popular with audiences that it was revived for an encore Melbourne season in 2016.

The production attracted the attention of British company, Theatre Royal Bath Productions, and was remounted with a British cast as part of the 2017 Summer Season in Bath, following which it travelled to Toronto for a six-week season at the Royal Alexandra Theatre.

In 2018 and 2019, it was presented for limited seasons in Brisbane and Adelaide, with a cast of British and Australian actors. Now it has finally reached Sydney, again remounted and looking as shiny as a new pin, for this very limited run in the Lyric Theatre. This time with an entirely new cast led by David Campbell playing Roger O. Thornhill, the role originated by Cary Grant in the film.

Supporting Campbell is an all-star cast including Amber McMahon, perfect as the glamorous, femme-fatale double agent, Eve Kendall (and others), Bert Labonte, suave and mysterious as the villainous Phillip Van Damm (and others) with Genevieve Lemon, Sharon Millerchip, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Alex Rathgeber, Berynn Schwerdt, Dorje Swallow, Kaeng Chan, Lachlan Woods, Nicholas Bell, Wadih Dona, Caroline Craig and Douglas Hansell, between them swapping costumes, manipulating props and transforming the stage with the countless other characters encountered in trains, airports, offices and hotel lobbies, necessary for the fast-moving action demanded by the storyline.

Indeed, part of the fun is trying to recognise which actor is portraying which of the myriad of characters so convincingly that it comes as a surprise in the end to discover that Campbell is the only actor in the show who portrays only one character, such is the finesse of the others.

Not that Campbell is slacking. He’s quite brilliant as the focal point of the action capturing a fascinating mix of amused savoie faire and steely confidence to convince that he can cope with any of the unlikely situations in which he finds himself, while taking the audience with him for the rapid-fire adventure.

The storyline follows the adventures of Roger O. Thornhill, a New York advertising executive who is kidnapped by thugs who mistake him for a man named George Kaplan. They refuse to believe that Thornhill is not Kaplan and try to kill him. When their attempt fails Thornhill finds himself implicated in a murder, so decides to flee setting off a series of dangerous escapes.

The complex, sophisticated metal and glass setting allows the audience to share some of the secrets of the special effects being created around the actors, as they re-create the fast-moving, James Bond-style action, which has Campbell’s character, Roger O. Thornhill, narrowly escaping an horrific collision, being menaced by a low-flying crop-duster plane, and best of all, flirting with death while rescuing the blonde and beautiful Eve Kendall by clambering down the famous Mount Rushmore sculptures, hotly pursued by the villains.

It’s all ripping good fun and matters not a jot to the enjoyment of this production, that you’ve never seen the Hitchcock film which inspired this brilliant homage. But if you have, your appreciation of how cleverly the film has been re-imagined for the stage will certainly be enhanced.

As presented in this all-too-brief Sydney season, this production can be celebrated for what it is; a thoroughly entertaining and brilliant piece of theatre-making by world-class Australian creatives and actors. Try not to miss it!

North by Northwest
Sydney Lyric Theatre, 55 Pirrama Road, Pyrmont (Sydney)
Performance: Saturday 26 March 2022
Season continues to 3 April 2022
Information and Bookings:

Image: Amber McMahon and David Campbell in the 2022 Sydney production of North by Northwest – photo by Daniel Boud

Review: Bill Stephens OAM