This version of John Buchan’s book The 39 Steps has been adapted for the stage by Patrick Barlow. It’s based on the Hitchcock film, one of many versions of the story that exist.
The adaptation can best be described as a 'traditional pre war ripping yarn'. It is reminiscent of a 1930s radio play in style with the sound effects and Received Pronunciation of that era. It gives an affectionate poke in the ribs at days gone by.
Richard Hannay is thrust unwittingly into a world of espionage with a mystery to solve, what are the 39 Steps? On his journey he has to learn who he can trust before he is jailed or murdered.
Richard Ede plays our hero with the right amount of heroic charisma and dash it all bravado. Charlotte Peters portrays the mysterious Annabella Schmidt and the slightly drippy Pamela with such contrast that you forget she is the only woman on stage. The hardest working members of this cast of four are Tony Bell and Gary Mackay. Their programme credits of “Man” do not do them justice. Together they play every other part in the show. This includes Policemen, spys, Monty Python-esque female characters and even Scottish moorland! Bell and Mackay are rarely off the stage, sometimes even changing characters before your eyes. All of the cast have perfect comedy timing and know just how much overacting they can get away with to add to the feel of the piece.
The set and staging have minimalistic elements at times, making fun of the things that a performer would normally dread, such as sound effects coming in late. It also leads to a scene on a train the like of which I have never seen before, it is pure genius!
This is a laugh out loud comedy where the comedy comes from the characters and their polished performance and not the story which is a true spy thriller. If you want a gripping story and a jolly good laugh at the same time, this is the show for you. Absolutely spiffing!
- Annette Nuttall