North By Northwest (Mirvish Productions/Kay and McLean Productions/Theatre Royal Bath Productions)
Perhaps Alfred Hitchcock’s most stylish film, in a long career full of them, North By Northwest is a classic of cinema, and a tall order to tackle for a company (originally, Australia’s Kay and McLean Productions; for this touring iteration, the U.K.’s Theatre Royal Bath Productions) to turn into a stage production. Its famous sequences with a plane in a cornfield, and spies chasing each other across the faces of Mount Rushmore, could be prohibitively expensive to stage. But this and other cinematic sequences—car rides, for instance—are cleverly accomplished with live film projections from two small booths at either side of the Royal Alexandra’s stage—while a cast of 12 performs the roles of “thousands,” as they claim.
Canadian Jonathan Watton plays the lead role of Roger O. Thornhill, a playboy ad executive who’s mistaken for a spy, abducted by some unscrupulous characters, and eventually framed for murder. The rest of the cast play the “thousands” he encounters in a trans-American chase by train, automobile, and yes, that plane. Curiously, for those famous large-scale sequences, the audience received them with lukewarm applause, almost more out of recognition than awe. But certainly, the staging of the Mount Rushmore sequence is a treat (which we won’t spoil here).
What really sells the show is the cast, whisking the usually skeletonized set between train station to hotel room to courtroom with efficient staging. It’s also worth noting that the more dated dialogue of the film, unlike the casual sexism in some other currently playing shows, is carried off with a wink and nudge, especially the crisp repartee between Watton and Olivia Fine’s Eve, the shrewd and mysterious woman who crosses paths with Thornhill on the lam.
That said, this is an especially faithful adaptation of the film, more homage than spoof. So it’s a valid question whether you’re interested in seeing the effort that goes into staging that homage, or just watching the film again.
To October 29, Royal Alexandra Theatre (260 King Street West), Tuesday-Saturday, 8 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, 2 p.m., Wednesday, 1:30 p.m., $38-$149.