The 39 Steps – The Royal and Derngate, Northampton

Director: Maria Aitken
Writer: Patrick Barlow, adapted from the book by John Buchan
Reviewer: Natasha Hegarty


Following the massively successful West End run, The 39 Steps is now embarking on a UK tour. The story tells the tale of Richard Hannay and his pencil moustache, who tells the audience he’s rather bored with life and fancies a bit of excitement – and excitement is exactly what he ends up with. After an incident at a theatre, he ends up sheltering a woman who tells him about a secret plot involving the 39 steps and a mysterious criminal mastermind. During the night, she’s stabbed and he’s suspected of her murder. Hannay goes on the run while trying to figure out her clues, taking him to Scotland and back on his adventure.

Four actors play all the different characters in the play – and there are a lot of them.

Richard Ede as Richard Hannay makes a compelling lead and the only actor to take on just one character. He manages to captivate the audience as the well-to-do dashing English chap and despite his constant setbacks, you root for him all the way through. The principal female characters are taken on by Olivia Green who is very funny in all three roles. She has brilliant chemistry with Ede and they seem to fit well no matter who she’s playing in a particular scene.

Rob Witcomb and Andrew Hodges as Man 1 and Man 2 are easily the stars of the show. They slip into different characters of both men and women constantly, many in the same scenes and easily get the most laughs from the audience. One of the funniest scenes takes place in a Scottish B&B where they simultaneously take on a couple of crooks and the husband and wife owners.

The characters’ physicality is fantastic thanks to the excellent movement by Olivier award-winning Tony Sedgewick. The actors use their clothes to show howling wind and the clever choreography used to show the characters on a train is simply superb. There is also a fabulous shadow scene showing Hannay on the run, which is incredibly clever, effective and quite a surprising element to the show.

The play is incredibly fast-paced and doesn’t stop to take a breath. Quick dialogue, excellent movement sequences and constant character changes mean that by the end it’s actually a surprise it’s over already.

The small cast successfully keeps up the pace, interest and comedy and it’s hard to pick fault with the production. It fully deserved the standing ovation at curtain down.

Runs until 16 January 2016 | Image: Dan Tsantilis

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