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North by Northwest review at Theatre Royal, Bath – ‘cleverly executed’

Olivia Fines and Jonathan Watton in North by Northwest at Theatre Royal, Bath. Photo: Nobby Clark

Simon Phillips’ production of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 film North by Northwest cannily overcomes the obvious hurdles of attempting to stage something so reliant on planes, trains and automobile chases.

The stagecraft is nakedly on display; it’s a celebration of what theatre can achieve, rather than an attempt to ape a movie scene for scene.

North by Northwest was one of the influences behind Matthew Weiner’s television series Mad Men. It’s easy to see why. It’s full of snappily suited ad execs and sultry women – it’s the perfect American daydream.

Jonathan Watton is more youthful and self-assured as dapper ad man Roger O Thornhill than Cary Grant was in the role of the man caught up in a complex web of mistaken identity. In turn, Olivia Fines’ performance as Eve Kendall owes more than a little to Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot – the pair’s rapport and camaraderie also brings to mind Billy Wilder’s comedy.

Dioramas and figurines manipulated by the performers create a continually moving backdrop. Doll’s house furniture stands in for auction wares, miniature trees zoom past outside the buffet car window and the famous crop duster plane is a matchbox model toy.

Yet missing among all the fun is any genuine Hitchcockian suspense. The director’s pregnant pauses are swapped for quick-fire banter and rapid scene changes. This is a homage to Hitchcock for a modern audience likely more familiar with aesthetic of Mad Men than the intricacies of Hitchcock’s plot. As Eve says towards the close, “this is silly.” To which Roger replies: “I know, I’m sentimental.”

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Cleverly executed stage adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film