Radio goes live onstage

Vintage Hitchcock revives origins of mystery genre

Before television reigned supreme families would gather around the radio to hear the latest exploits of The Green Hornet or The Shadow or laugh along with Our Miss Brooks. Vertigo Theatre taps into this culture with its current show Joe Landry’s Vintage Hitchcock: A Live Radio Play which is described as a film re-imagined as radio and transformed into live theatre.

“We’re hearkening back to a time when radio was the main form of entertainment” says Christian Goutsis one of the play’s five cast members. “Vertigo is presenting this play as a bit of a throwback to the origins of the mystery and thriller genres.”

Set in a radio studio in 1946 Vintage Hitchcock is structured as “plays within a play.” Each cast member plays an actor who does multiple characters over the course of the evening’s three radio plays which are all based on Hitchcock films.

“You’ll watch the actors as they would have done it at the time running up to the microphone to do their dialogue and then doing some Foley” says cast member Katherine Fadum. Foley refers to the creation of sound effects using an assortment of props and that action provides most of the visuals in this play. “Our Foley instruments are set up everywhere on the stage. We have to make the sounds of doors slamming thunder wind rain footsteps” Fadum adds.

The three Hitchcock films that form the basis of Vintage Hitchcock are The Lodger Sabotage and The 39 Steps .

Don’t be surprised if you’ve only heard of one of them — Goutsis says it’s no accident that Vintage Hitchcock opens with two of Hitchcock’s lesser-known works — The Lodger is a silent film made by Hitchcock in 1927 and he shot Sabotage in 1936.

“They were specifically chosen because they are early movies. Trying to do a very popular Hitchcock movie would bring a different layer of challenges in terms of expectation. With The Lodger and Sabotage there’s immediate buy-in to the fact we’re presenting them as radio plays” says Goutsis.

The Lodger takes place in Whitechapel in 1888 the year Jack the Ripper was wreaking havoc on London. The audience meets an impoverished British couple who let a room in their house to earn extra income. Late one night a pale gaunt sinister stranger comes to their door looking for a room. And the plot thickens.

In Sabotage the main characters are a couple who live in an apartment above the cinema they own. The wife befriends a young male neighbour who unbeknownst to her actually works for Scotland Yard and is observing her husband because he’s suspected of nefarious deeds.

Last but not least The 39 Steps is a more familiar Hitchcock story that follows Richard Hannay’s journey across Scotland as he tries to stop a spy ring from spiriting British military secrets out of the country.

Vintage-style jingles take the Vertigo audience from play to play with many of the advertisements offering a Hitchcockian wink to the audience. For example one promotes the Bates Motel while another advertises North by Northwest Airlines.

While Vintage Hitchcock may feel like a slice of yesteryear Goutsis says the audio medium shouldn’t be relegated to the history books just yet. “In my own career I’ve seen a bit of a resurgence in audio entertainment…. Audio entertainment for a plugged-in society is becoming popular again.”

Goutsis says Vintage Hitchcock also pulls back the proverbial curtain on an actor’s work. “You’re seeing actors portray characters simply through their voices. There are no costumes to support it there is no physicality to support it. We have to put all that character work into our voices and I think that’s an interesting visual for an audience” says Goutsis.

Fadum suggests that the audience could take the experience one step further. “I’m hoping that sometimes people will close their eyes and just give over to the audio of the piece” she says.