Following its sell-out season at north London’s Tricycle Theatre (See News, 23 Aug 2006), the comic stage adaptation of John Buchan’s whodunit The 39 Steps transferred to the West End’s Criterion Theatre last night (20 September 2006, previews from 14 September).

The 39 Steps revolves around Richard Hannay, a Canadian visitor to 1930s London. After a disturbance at the end of a “Mr Memory” music hall show, Hannay meets Annabella, who’s on the run from foreign secret agents. The pair are followed back to Hannay’s apartment where Annabella is murdered, setting Hannay on the run in an attempt to break the spy ring and prove his innocence.

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The romantic spy thriller was memorably filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935 and has been adapted, with a comic twist, by Patrick Barlow (aka Desmond Olivier Dingle, artistic director of the fictional National Theatre of Brent), from an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon.

On stage, four actors - Charles Edwards (as Hannay), Catherine McCormack, Rupert Degas and Simon Gregor – play some “150 roles” between them and recreate all of the story’s thrills and spills, including the chase on the Flying Scotsman, the escape on the Forth Bridge and, according to promotional material, the “first theatrical bi-plane crash ever staged”. Maria Aitken directs.

For Whatsonstage.com TV, we attended the performance and the post-show party at Café de Paris to hear what theatregoers, the show’s cast, adaptor Patrick Barlow, director Maria Aitken and producer Edward Snape as well as guests including Jack Davenport (son of the director), Richard Coyle, David Suchet and Tricycle artistic director Nicolas Kent had to say on opening night.

- by Terri Paddock