ComedyDramaNorth WestReview

The 39 Steps – Liverpool Playhouse Theatre

Writer:John Buchan
Adaptor: Patrick Barlow
Director: Maria Aitkin and James Farrell
Reviewer: Abbie Rippon


This well-known novel by John Buchan has been given a new lease of life with this dramatic, creative and damn right hilarious retelling by Fiery Angel Ltd and Tricycle London Productions Ltd in conjunction with the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Set in pre-war Britain and including a wild chase through the wilds of Scotland, The 39 Steps is a tale of spies, murder and romance following the story of Richard Hannay, a happy-go-lucky London bachelor, as he gets wound up in the mystery of the 39 Steps.

The 39 Steps has already performed to sell-out audiences in the West End and toured the UK to wild acclaim is especially clever as the array of over 30 characters is performed by a cast of just four (and, one suspects, one very sneaky stagehand). The multi-role play is one of the key factors that brings out the comedy of the script and story. The physical humour of each of the four-strong cast induces roars of belly laughs from the audience who will the performers on with their quick costume changes, transformations and the energy and comedy they bring to the piece.

The set and technical design by Peter McKintosh, Ian Scott and Mic Pool are both functional but detailed. McKintosh has included a false proscenium used for scenes in the London Palladium, but also it functions for the show as a whole. The clever nature of the set, costume, lighting and sound allows the four performers to be transported from train carriages the windy moors of Scotland in the blink of an eye.

This performance is energetic and packs a real comedy punch. Despite the adventure being a little farcical in the way it is performed, it is never the less gripping for the audience due to the pace and zeal of the performance and, we must mention, the writing. This is an action packed adventure and Patrick Barlow had a real task at hand to successfully work Hitchcock’s story into a 90-minute performance. Successful he was; the audience is hooked from beginning to end.

Each of the cast puts in an excellent performance. Richard Ede as the dashing Richard Hannay has all the charm of Wilde’s Algernon Montcreif, but a little more heroic. Olivia Greene, Andrew Hodges and Bob Witcomb as, well, all of the other roles are a superb team with a range of exceptionally…. ‘interesting’ accents and real comic flair. One can tell that the performers are a well-oiled machine working in comic harmony under the creative direction of Maria Aitkin and James Farrell.

If you are in the mood for a few belly laughs and something a bit different from the norm then the advice is, get down to the Liverpool Playhouse this week, you won’t be disappointed.

Runs until 9 April 2016, then touring until July | Image:Dan Tsantilis

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The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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