North by Northwest, Theatre Royal Bath

THE Melbourne Theatre Company stage version of Hitchcock’s classic film North by Northwest, making its UK debut as part of Bath Theatre Royal’s summer season, is eye-popping fun from start to finish.

The staging is a sort of combination of the award-winning stagings of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and South­ampton Nuffield’s Hudsucker Proxy, with a bit of Mad Men thrown in. Add the excitement of a story that takes in trains, cars, planes, oil tankers and Mount Rushmore, and you have a show that keeps you on the edge of your seat, laughing, from the opening mistaken identity sequence to the romantic finale.

Most people in the audience seemed to know the story from the film, but it was new to me.  Roger O Thornhill, RAT for short, is a flashy Madison Avenue advertising executive who turns up for a high-power meeting, only to be mistaken for a very different sort of man. He’s kidnapped, forced to drink a bottle of bourbon and set behind the wheel of a car.

Simon Phillips’ all-action production covers the thousands of miles from Manhattan to Rapid City and Mount Rushmore by utilising all the technological gizmos and tricks of the 21st century, created in view of the audience at the sides of the stage. Want to know what Green Screen is … go to Bath to find out, as the villains morph into the granite faces of America’s presidential mountain, as biplanes dive overhead, trains speed through the countryside and a car makes a stomach-churning spiral descent of a mountain.

Of course the hero is decent type, twice divorced because he never found the right woman, wearing a suit that fits, and frightened of nothing. The girl is blonde and glamourous, the villains wicked and from the Eastern Bloc, the story improbable and the denouement exciting.

You will laugh as much as at any traditional summer show, and when creaking variety makes way for witty technological brilliance, it’s a real hi-tec and hi-energy treat. The ensemble cast, led by Jonathan Watton, Olivia Fines and Abigail McKern, plunges into the spirit with huge chutzpah. It’s on until Saturday 12th August  – make a date.


Photographs by Nobby Clark

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