Sydney Lyric, March 16


Of course I didn’t duck, but the big head in front of me did – not an unreasonable reaction when a cropper-duster aircraft is flying straight at you. Yes, all the action scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s timeless film are here in some guise, mainly thanks to projections and, in the case of the notorious biplane and some other sequences, models being manipulated, videoed and projected in real time.

Amber McMahon and David Campbell. All photos: Daniel Boud.

David Campbell stars in the Cary Grant role of Roger Thornhill, who, having been mistaken for someone else, is variously force-fed bourbon, arrested, beaten up, seduced, shot, almost squashed by a plane and chased across the stone heads of the presidents at Mount Rushmore. Grant famously played the bewildered Thornhill with insouciant charm, almost whatever befell him, and Campbell closely mimics Grant’s mid-Atlantic clip and reproduces much of the charm in a winning performance of such energy as must leave him exhausted.

Amber McMahon picks up Eva Marie Saint’s role of Eve Kendall, the professional spy and part-time seductress, and Bert Labonte James Mason’s role of Phillip Van Damm, a prototype for the Bond villains. Both are good – as is the whole 12-person cast, which includes Tony Llewellyn-Jones as The Professor and Sharon Millerchip and Caroline Craig offering delightful cameos. One star convincingly vying with Campbell’s performance throughout is Bernard Herrmann’s original score, tinting the drama with a grandeur it probably doesn’t deserve, but that it revels in, anyway.

Photos: Daniel Boud.

Carolyn Burns has adapted Ernest Lehman’s screenplay, maintaining much of the original dialogue, including such delicious quips as Thornhill’s “big face, small razor” explanation to Kendall for taking so long to shave. Apart from the role of Mother (Genevieve Lemon) seeming to have shrunk, and the agency of Kendall seeming to have grown, someone fixated on the Hitchcock version could just about mouth the words. Simon Phillips has directed it with typical flair, fluidly weaving the cast around Nick Schlieper’s ingenious and constantly mobile set in tandem with Josh Burns’ projections.

Adapting movies to the stage has become quite a fad (with 9 to 5 playing in Sydney simultaneously). The enormous affection for the original that Burns, Phillips and the rest bring to bear glows throughout, and, together with the fact it remains a cracking story, the play draws you in. The big questions with any transposition between art forms are always whether the original is enhanced, or a fresh perspective afforded. The answers here would be no and a qualified yes.

Photos: Daniel Boud.

Unlike with the film, seeing through the illusion is part of the fun. The use of models, for instance, reminds me of television’s Thunderbirds series, in as much as the very fakery is a nod and a wink between makers and audience. The makers are saying, “We know you know that this is transparently fake, but your imagination and your enjoyment of the technical ingenuity is largely going to override that, and when that doesn’t happen, it’s quite alright to have a giggle.”

Chuckles rippled around the room in the suspenseful scenes in a way that would never happen with a screening of the Hitchcock. Indeed a proportion of the audience was inclined to see the whole thing as a send-up, which I doubt was Burns and Phillips’ intention, yet nor would they be appalled. Some lovers of the film may be disappointed, and some who are unfamiliar with it may find it all super zany. I steer a middle course of thinking it’s just fun, and that’s not so bad, is it?

Until April 3.