Theatre Review: The 39 Steps

This ‘The 39 Steps’ is a funny, good natured send-up of the classic Alfred Hitchcock movie that was in turn based on John Buchan’s famous British thriller novel.

Presented by State Theatre Company and Adina Apartment Hotels
Reviewed 23 August 2016

39 steps2John Buchan’s classic British thriller, ‘Boy’s Own Adventure’ novel, The 39 Steps, has been made into three movies, one tele-movie, and even an interactive computer game. Now, playwright Patrick Barlow has adapted it into an hilarious stage show. That’s right – hilarious! And thanks to Director Jon Halpin, his cast and crew, this version by the State Theatre Company is great fun and gloriously silly.

Barlow’s adaptation is a tongue-in-cheek attempt to put the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock classic movie version on stage; complete with chases across the Scottish Moors, the famous ‘dangling from the Forth Bridge’ scene, and a daring escape from a moving train; oh, and let’s not forget the bi-plane!. It’s all designed to show how wildly ambitious (and silly) it is to attempt to adapt a classic movie, in tact, to the stage. All the while though, Barlow’s script maintains the heart and soul of the original ‘wronged man sets out to prove his innocence’ storyline.

39 steps1In this production, Halpin has pulled all the stops out to provide the audience with an absolutely zany, side-splitting night out at the theatre. He litters the show with delightful bits of comedy business, cleverly timed tricks and well planned mistakes.

Expertly “hamming it up” is an art and one that this cast of four – Charles Mayer, Tim Overton, Nathan Page and Anna Steen – simply excel at. Page (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries‘ Detective Jack Robinson) plays the quintessential British hero to a tee.With a hair never out of place and an always immaculate looking suit, he pokes good naturedly at the type of character that he has become famous for. His upper lip is so ‘stiff’ that it balances his pencil-thin moustache perfectly.

Steen shows off her versatility well, playing a seductive German spy (sorry, “agent”), an elderly Scottish crofter’s very young wife, and the very innocent, very virginal heroine, Pamela. Her take on Pamela, in particular, is so perfect that one could be easily forgiven in thinking that Steen had just walked off the Hitchcock set.

39 stepsEven though this is a marvellous ensemble cast, the two ‘rock stars’ of this production are Mayer and Overton. These two very physical and very accomplished comedic actors play, literally, a cast of thousands (ok, maybe only 40). They are men, women, even a small newsboy and occasionally all at the same time – watch out for the train scene which is a brilliant example of the ‘actors skill’ from them both.

We all deserve a good laugh and this production is a ‘hoot, mon’. It is certainly well worth taking 39 Steps (even 1,039) to see it – and keep an eye out for Hitch’s iconic cameo appearance!

Reviewed by Brian Godfrey
Twitter: @briangods

Venue: Dunstan Playhouse
Season: Until 11 Sept 2016
Duration: 2 hours (including interval)
Bookings: BASS


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