The 39 Steps is such a soaraway success that it recently made Americans roar with laughter in San Francisco, continues to pack out the Criterion in the West End and is now in the middle of a UK tour. So, it must be good eh? In the style of one of the characters, the reply is: "Bloody good show, chaps."
John Buchan's numerous plot twists are revisited but with so much slapstick humour, silly accents, crazy characters and jolly jokes that is impossible not to surrender and simply sit back and enjoy the ride. We follow the most decent of men, Richard Hannay (Dugald Bruce-Lockhart) who find himself wanted for murder following the briefest of encounters with a femme fatale. From here on, it's full speed ahead as the cast of four (minus Bruce Lockhart who is our protagonist only) play multiple roles in a breathless display of athleticism and comic timing.
For Alfred Hitchcock lovers like myself, there are spoofs, nods and winks towards the likes of Psycho (a stream doubling as a shower), North By Northwest (some stiff upper lip pilots), and a character suffering from Vertigo. Each of these corny but funny gags is delivered with real panache by the excellent cast.
Bruce-Lockhart is wonderfully hammy as the 'Brit twit' in the wrong place at the wrong time, as he clearly relishes the stupidity of it all by playing it poker-faced throughout. Katherine Kingsley veers from victim to glamour-puss to innocent country gal via her three very different characters; Scottish loner - Margaret, a woman who knows too much - Annabella Schmidt and the pure but perky Pamela.
The superb relay race acting of Richard Braine and Dan Starkey is also a joy to behold as they switch costumes, accents, facial expressions, accents and actions. All this is expertly executed at the speed of light due to Maria Aitken's dynamic direction and their game turns.
As much as I love the Opera House, it does not always offer a natural home for plays and at times, Mic Pool's evocative sound effects; from gasping crowds to screams from backstage is often lost in this vast venue. Clearly, the actors struggle to be heard at times and this is a real shame as almost every line in Patrick Barlow's adaptation is a winner.
Even so, if you are after a fun packed, frenetic night out, The 39 Steps is worth catching. If you are anything like me, you will be singgering at the zany antics of the double-crossing characters throughout.