How do you define "clever" in
terms of a theatrical production – let alone "really clever"?
Yet that's precisely what Patrick Barlow's multi-layered version of
the Hitchcock film of John Buchan's The 39 Steps
(keep up at the back, there!) is. What's more, it's
clever-affectionate, and that's something which an audience laps up.
This is a new tour, re-cast from both
the original and recent West End productions and re-directed by Lucy
Skilbeck. Peter McKintosh's sets and costumes, Ian Scott's
lighting and Mic Pool's syncopated sound design continue to play
their important roles, but it's the performances which really make
It's no denigration of
either Richard Ede, who plays the archetypical stiff-upper-lipped
reluctant hero Hannay, or of Charlotte Peters who takes on all the
women with whom Hannay entangles himself – including a marvellous
hommage to Madeleine Carroll – to say that
Tony Bell and Gary Mackay as everyone else (of either sex,
villainous or ludicrous) almost walk away with the entire show. Their
timing, especially as the fast-talking travellers in ladies'
lingerie, is impeccable and they give a new meaning to the song
title "Underneath the lamplight" of Marlene Dietrich
Barlow and original director Maria
Aitken have incorporated some blink-and-they've-gone references to
Hitchcock's other films, notably in the shadow-play sequence. I
enjoyed this play the first time that I saw it. It seems to matured
into something even more joyous and pleasurable this time round.