by Lynn on September 29, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Adapted by Carolyn Burns
From the Original Screenplay by Ernest Lehman
Directed by Simon Phillips
Set by Simon Phillips and Nick Schlieper
Lighting by Nick Schlieper
Costumes by Esther Marie Hayes
Sound by Poti Martin
Audio Visuals by Josh Burns
Composer and soundscape by Ian McDonald
Cast: Angus Brown
Tom Davey
Olivia Fines
Kieran Gough
Gerald Kyd
Abigail McKern
Nick Sampson
Jonathan Watton

Playwright Carolyn Burns and director Simon Phillips are determined to reproduce the thrilling Alfred Hitchcock film, North by Northwest, on the stage. I’m not saying ‘adapt’ for the stage. I’m saying they want to put the film on stage as it was on screen. I have to wonder why they bothered since the theatrical result is so much less than the film and certainly not good enough theatrically.

This is the story of mistaken identity with possible terrible results. Roger O. Thornhill is mistaken for a man named Kaplan who various people want. He has information. Nasty people want it and will kill for it. The Feds want him for the same reason but probably won’t go so far as to kill him, but you never know. Spying and espionage are involved.

There is an elaborate bit of business where the cast stand in a line and hold various sheets of paper with a letter on it spelling out the names of the people who made the film. The last name, that of the director, takes a bit of time and deliberate confusion before the name “Sir Alfred Hitchcock” is spelled out. There is a scene in which Roger O. Thornhill hails a cab and is helped by a portly, bald, slow talking Englishman who looks an awful lot like Alfred Hitchcock, who then slowly, portentously walks off stage.

The first name in the list of the creative team for the program for the play is Alfred Hitchcock, the brilliant director of the film. Again, Carolyn Burns and Simon Phillips are determined to re-create the film on stage from the crop dusting scene in which Thornhill is nearly mowed down by a plane, to the race across the faces chiseled on Mount Rushmore, right down to the sly inclusion of Hitchcock into his own films.

Burns has had some success as a television writer with forays into theatre. Simon Phillips has a solid career in theatre and is credited with producing a production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies that actually makes sense. One wonders why they don’t know that theatre and film are not interchangeable. You can have filmed segments in a theatrical production. A film can even be ‘theatrical.’ But the two are completely different.

Never mind that theatre is 2500 years old and film is about 150 years old. Never mind that theatre requires the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief and film goes for spectacle (the huge screen the loud sound, the ability to remove any requirement of ‘imagining’ because often the work is done for you with special filmed effects.

Not content to let the audience see a plane (on a screen at the back of the theatre) zooming down right toward Thornhill to kill him, or to watch as Thornhill scurries over the faces on Mount Rushmore, pursued by thugs, Simon Phillips shows us how the trick is done, as people at the sides of the stage use a toy plane and squatting in front of video cameras to simulate the two notable scenes in the film. Distracting or what?

At Thornhill, the dashing Jonathan Watton even assumes the rolling gate of the dashing Cary Grant who played Thornhill in the film and also adjusts his glasses, as Grant did, with one finger pushing the glasses back up his nose. The blonde and cool Olivia Fines as Eve who is trying to come on to Thornhill with ulterior motive even assumes staged poses (one leg bent back at the knee as she kisses Thornhill. The music is intrusive and cheesy as it tries to create a sense of urgency.

There are many moments of clever staging, but there are also too many moments of dead, clunky air and stodgy scenes that make the pace plodding.


If I wanted to see the film of North by Northwest I’d go to the movies or watch it on-line. But I expected to see a true theatrical creation when I went to the theatre. I know the difference between theatre and film. How come Carolyn Burns and Simon Phillips don’t?

Opened: Sept. 19, 2017
Saw it: Sept. 27, 2017.
Closes: Oct. 19, 2017.
Running Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.