Nicholas Bell chats to us about returning to NORTH BY NORTHWEST after COVID

North By Northwest (NBNW) is a 1950’s spy thriller that was originally produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock and is considered by some as the greatest film of all time. The film was selected as a ‘cultural, historical and aesthetically’ significant masterpiece, by the National Film Registry in the United States in 1995.

The stage adaptation has garnered worldwide acclaim with productions in the UK, Canada and on tour across Australia with sell-out seasons in Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane. The production is set to play an exclusive limited season in Sydney at the Lyric Theatre from March 2022, produced by Kay & McLean Productions.

We had a chat with cast member Nicholas Bell, who reprises his role on the Australian tour. Nicholas has performed for major theatre companies around the world including Global Creatures, Sydney Theatre Company and the Royal Shakespeare Company in London. His more recent credits include The Architect, Madagascar, Richard III, The Hypocrite all for MTC, Warhorse; (Global) and The Great (STC).

First up, what does it feel like to be finally returning to the rehearsal room after the COVID lockdown?

The forced isolation over lockdown has been awful. Actors are, by nature a gregarious bunch so seeing old friends and making new ones will be very special. It is THE busiest show so we will have to hit the ground running and work fast. I just hope it all comes back to me! I think the muscle memory will kick in alright and we will be fine. The original rehearsal room for NBNW was at times too much fun… we would laugh for hours and get very little done. I have no doubt this time will be just the same.

Can you tell me a little bit about your approach to creating uniquely different characters in a show where you play multiple roles?

I think it’s 18 characters, 18 costumes and a swag of different voices. My mantra was always to keep it simple and make it clear. Of course, the film gives you so much. Hitchcock cast superbly, always telling the story with well-defined characters, even the ‘one liners’. I’m quite happy to mimic their speech patterns, observe their body language and follow their intentions. At the same time make it my own little journey.

How well do you think the story translates from screen to stage?

It would never have occurred to Hitchcock that his film would be adapted for the stage, such a process just didn’t happen then. Now it’s completely different. In fact, some films are created specifically to be adaptable as a stage show and will make much more money than the film ever did. The joy of NBNW is that it doesn’t seem an obvious choice for the stage. The multiple locations, the big set pieces, trains, planes, mountains!! Yet there is ABSOLUTELY nothing in the film we cannot put on stage. That’s the fun of watching it, seeing how we solve those issues. Anything is possible. Our Director, Simon Phillips and Writer, Carolyn Burns have the sharpest and wittiest imaginations.

Without giving too much away, what makes this adaptation unique?

Without giving anything away how do we put the Mount Rushmore finale in the film on stage? Our heroes climb down the mighty stone faces of four great but very dead Presidents. Well, as someone intimately involved in that scene it is very clever. A bit of a challenge and a bit painful for an actor. Unique? well, I have never worked that way before…

Which is your favourite Hitchcock movie and why?

A toss-up between THE BIRDS that scared the hell out of me as a child. The idea that birds could become malevolent for no reason is pure Hitchcock. REAR WINDOW, with its one set, fantastic music, Jimmy Stewart at his best and the simplest of ideas is to my mind a perfect film.

If you could play any character created by Hitchcock, who would it be, and why?

Lars Thorwald, played by Raymond Burr in REAR WINDOW. Total villain.

Why do you think a production about mistaken identity is relevant today?

We live now in a surveillance society. We are watched, scanned, checked in, numbered by everyone and everything. Mind you we bring it on ourselves. We all carry a device in our pockets that catalogues our every move, every conversation, every thought it seems. We tap like and dislike to everything. we post our whole lives for indiscriminate consumption. So if it all goes wrong and you find yourself in a situation saying “but that’s not me” or “ I didn’t do that” don’t be surprised if no one believes you. Like poor Roger Thornhill, you’ll have a hell of a time finding the truth.

Why should audiences come and see this production?

I think audiences are craving the chance to gather in numbers again and to share an experience. NBNW is pure, unadulterated fun. One minute it is slick theatrics, the next a sort of steampunk ‘ make it up’ carnival. Like the train in the film it hurtles through the night, all steam and whistles and then in an instant oozes charm and sophistication. It goes like the clappers!..  so get on board, hold on tight and enjoy the ride.

North By Northwest is currently on sale at 

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