Book: John Buchan
Adaptor: Patrick Barlow
Director: Maria Aitken
“What are the 39 steps?” – this is the question our hero, Richard Hanney, spends the play trying to answer. After a mysterious woman gets stabbed in the back in his West End apartment, Hanney finds himself embroiled in a dizzying journey to exonerate himself from murder.
It is a tale drawn from a time of popular pulp fiction, and though the source material comes from John Buchan’s 1915 novel, the play actually follows the narrative of the 1935 Hitchcock film adaptation, which is inspired by, but not identical to, the novel.
The cast consists of just four actors, two of whom play the many characters Hanney encounters on his journey. Richard Ede plays the suave and charismatic Richard Hanney, and encapsulates the old fashioned ideals of the hero while Olivia Greene plays three different women, giving each a distinct personality. Andrew Hodges and Rob Witcomb take on the many other characters and achieve their character hopping with admirable skill; With just a spin and a hat switch they often bounce between two or more characters in a single moment – this has become a celebrated feature of the show itself, and these are arguably the scenes which garner the most laughter.
This can’t be credited just to the skill of the actor, of course, but also the careful and intricate choreography of movement director, Toby Sedgwick. In fact, throughout the entire show there are a vast number of sequences that depend of physical comedy. Though the script is witty and full of clever jokes and quips, a lot of the comedy is in the movement of the actors and the interaction with the space and objects around them.
There are some delightfully clever moments created with simple, old-fashioned, low-tech techniques, befitting the era that this play is set in. The well thought out and inspired use of props result in hilarious moments, that are surprising in their visual appeal – one such memorable transformation is a scene where chairs and a podium instantly become a car speeding through the night, another is the chase across the Scottish moors conveyed through the medium of shadow puppetry.
The physical performance and prop work adds a whole new dimension to the story that could not be achieved on screen. That said, homage is paid to the cinematic version and to Hitchcock himself – there’s several name-drops of his films scattered along the way, spoof scenes to catch, and the famous score from Psycho to listen out for.
The compelling plot-driven story is entertaining in itself, but the component which makes this production so unique is Maria Aitkens direction and the mixture of methods by which the humour is achieved. It’s playful in its cheeky irreverence and completely tongue-in-cheek, there isn’t a moment where it takes itself seriously and neither do the audience; every minute has something to laugh at. Ensure you take the necessary steps to not miss this criminally funny and entertaining night at the theatre!
Runs until 18 June 2016 | Image:Dan Tsantilis