Theatre Review: The 39 Steps

In its returning season, a fresh take on an Alfred Hitchcock classic The 39 Steps is a marvellous example of a strong ensemble driven physical theatre comedy.

By

Presented by The State Theatre Company
Reviewed 04 October 2019

In its returning season, a fresh take on an Alfred Hitchcock classic The 39 Steps is a marvellous example of a strong ensemble driven physical theatre comedy. Classic throwbacks to timely 1930s traits like vaudeville theatre, the plight of British train travel and good old fashioned skulduggery all give this production a rich basis to make some truly enjoyable physical theatre.

Following the story from Hitchcock’s film (and the book the film was based on), Richard Hannay’s (Nathan Page) simple and enjoyable evening at the theatre is broken when gunshots ring out in the auditorium. A German woman, Annabella Schmidt (Anna Steen), convinces him to give her sanctuary in his flat where we discover she is embroiled in chicanery and is killed by two conspicuous men from a secret society. Accused of her murder, Hannaye flees to Scotland following the clues she tells him shortly before she dies. In a flight for his life Hannay finds himself in almost Kafkaesque situations meeting colourful characters (a multitude played by Tim Overton and Charles Mayer) in his journey that get evermore ridiculous as the play goes on.

The comedy was subtle at first, giving only indications of the level of physicality that the show contained but slowly it became apparent that the show was not willing to hold itself back. It ratchets up from simple little light tricks and badly functioning set to maddeningly quick costume changes and farcical chases that end up in entirely unexpected but pleasant lighting tricks.

The cast were sterling. Page kept a sense of defiant calm throughout the show which was entirely inappropriate for the constant absurd situations he finds himself in. Steen in her three exceptional and appropriate roles was both hilarious and heart-warming. A special mention needs to go to The Others and the Other Others for their outstanding work. Mayer and Overton’s frantic costume changes for their 63 roles each are a testament to the superb work of two fine performers. What may be one of the most enjoyable elements of the show is the audience is able to see how much fun the performers are having. It is an honest joy that travels throughout the theatre and the actors take the audience along with them on an absurd ride.

There is little about this show that isn’t impressive. A powerful cast, an elaborate set and a smooth running backstage crew were on display with what was an overall enjoyable show.

Reviewed by Simon Lancione

Rating out of 5:  4.5

Venue: The Dunstan Playhouse
Season:  3-12 October
Duration:  120min
Tickets:  $30 – $84
Bookings: https://statetheatrecompany.com.au/shows/the-39-steps/

Photo Credit: Kate Pardey

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