Well, what can I say, Patrick Barlow’s adaptation of John Buchan’s comedy spy thriller The 39 Steps is a jolly good show.
It’s thoroughly charming from the moment Dugald Bruce-Lockhart introduces himself as the runaway - although entirely innocent - Richard Hannay, right until the close when the audience is covered in seasonal snow (it was artificial but seemed real).
As she has done in London’s West End, Maria Aitken has managed to direct an awfully slick, humorous and highly entertaining production based on an original script by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon.
But the performances of the talented cast of four were executed rather splendidly. Katherine Kingsley deserves an award for her ability at seducing the pants of any male to walk into a room, or in this instance, on the stage. Dressed in a figure hugging black number which emphases every aspect of her fabulous figure, as Hannay’s accomplice Pamela she’s sexy, vulnerable but also reluctant to the hero’s charms.
Kinglsey switches character and also plays the demanding yet fatal Annabella Schmidt and her performance as the Scottish wife of a farmer, Margaret, generates some sympathy from the watching audience.
The actress does not change roles as often as Richard Braine or Dan Starkey, however. These two fine actors play a plethora of parts and produce comical timing at its best. Starkey steels the show with his amazing ability at storing facts when playing Mr Memory and scenes where he’s a woman are as hilarious as they are believable. His timing with Braine is fantastic in the Flying Scotsman scene when the two play a number of roles from a newspaper seller, policeman, to train passengers.
Bruce-Lockhart as Hannay, with pencil moustache and dressed in tweed, manages to carry all the charisma and charm needed for the part but also keeps the plot ticking along nicely by updating the audience with all that is happening.
However, the use of props by all four members of cast is certainly a clever ploy by director Aitken. When Hannay and Pamela are caught by the supposedly under cover detectives (played by Braine and Starkey), there’s a really funny moment of chairs being quickly assembled to make up the vehicle and a steering wheel thrown to add the finishing touch.
But, without giving too much away, the great thing about The 39 Steps is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s just a rather splendid night of entertainment I’d say!
-Michael Hunt*Photograph by Tristram Kenton