ComedyDramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

The 39 Steps – West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

Writer: John Buchan

Adapter: Patrick Barlow from an original concept by Simon Corble &Nobby Dimon

Director: Maria Aitken

Designer: Peter McKintosh

Reviewer: Rich Jevons

The main novelty of The 39 Steps, is that all roles in this farcical thriller are played by just four performers. Winning an Olivier Award for Best Comedy and after nine years in the West End, it is now touring with Richard Ede as the clumsy hero Richard Hannay and Olivia Greene as the various love interests. Hannay is courteous and gentlemanly, even when handcuffed to his surprised partner in crime.

The 39 Steps is based on the 1915 novel by John Buchan, however not much emphasis is placed on being true to the original. It owes more to Hitchcock’s 1935 screen version, with its mixture of comedic farce and serious thriller. Maria Aitken’s direction has an eye for detail and almost a character in itself is the succession of sound cues designed by Mic Pool.

It is a hilarious and fast-paced melodrama that mixes murder, espionage, and romance in a seamless stream of scene changes that provide an immense and frenetic energy. There is askillful use of Ian Scott’s lighting to depict action that would otherwise have demanded a more cinematic approach. These lighting and sound effects are combined with an improvised use of props and some swift costume changes.

This is a surprisingly light show, given its more serious side, but the sharp wit and humour even go as far as a pantomime cow, while still maintaining the suspense of Hitchcock’s original.

Touring nationwide | Image: Contributed

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. 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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