Theatre Royal Bath is the chosen venue for the UK première of the stage version of North by Northwest, which had its acclaimed world première in Melbourne in 2015 and is next to open in Ontario, Canada. Adapted by Carolyn Burns and director husband Simon Phillips, the pair have succeeded in bringing to life one of the most iconic moments of 20th century cinema.
Oozing Mad Men-style glamour and sophistication, advertising executive and two-times divorcee Roger Thornhill, leads a predictable life of cocktail hours and nights at the theatre with his mother (Abigail McKern) until he becomes the bewildered victim of mistaken identity and abduction; a misunderstanding which causes him to flee from spies, Feds, and a crop-dusting plane.
Naturally Thornhill meets the inevitable mysterious blonde along the way, but who can he trust? A cast of just twelve actors, many of whom undergo countless costume changes in order to keep up with the fast pace and ever-changing scenes, Jonathan Watton is utterly convincing as Thornhill, the leading man Cary Grant once made his own, while Olivia Fines steps effortlessly into the shoes of Eva Maria Saint as the cool blonde Eve who comes to his rescue but may have her own agenda.
Whilst Burns and Phillips have been extremely faithful to the 1959 film, which followed hot on the heels of Vertigo and came just before Psycho, it would have been an altogether pointless exercise had this play not boasted it’s own unique atmosphere, something that is certainly enhanced when coupled with the historic setting of Theatre Royal Bath. Pushing theatrical boundaries, for those (such as myself) who were sceptical about how such a sweeping thriller would work on stage, they proved us all wrong.
Far from shying away from North by Northwest’s legendary action scenes, this imaginative production recreates the suspense, comedy and thrills of the cinema by using a combination of green-screen techniques, video projection and miniature scale models. Meanwhile, the austere silver grid set, based on the opening titles from the movie, provides a highly adaptable framework for the entire story, from the train and hotel scenes to the famous cliff-hanger finale at Mount Rushmore.
It may be almost sixty years on, but the themes of North by Northwest, including Thornhill’s quest to uphold his identity and prove his innocence, tap into our current fears of cyber security and identity theft, not to mention our curiosity in the underworld, whose agents co-exist alongside us undisturbed until our lives accidentally collide with theirs.
The attention to detail in this production is highly commendable, as is the creativity that has been employed to pull this ambitious project off. Everything, from the choreography to the costumes, is perfectly pitched to transport us back to the suspenseful era of Sir Alfred Hitchcock; a roller coaster of laughs, jumps and nail-biting tension, this effervescent tribute to the golden age of thrillers is an undoubted highlight of Theatre Royal Bath’s summer 2017 season. Catch Thornhill before he makes a run for it.
North by Northwest at Theatre Royal Bath until 12th August 2017. Running time approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes including an interval. Production images by Nobby Clark. For more information and tickets please visit the website.