Monday, 21 November 2011

The 39 Steps by John Buchan, adapted by Patrick Barlow. Progress Theatre, Reading, November 2011

John Buchan and Alfred Hitchcock's THE 39 STEPS' is a hilarious adaptation by Patrick Barlow of Buchan's intriguing mystery and Hitchcock's classic 1935 film. It shares the same characters but as befits Barlow's methods the drama employs only four actors. It's all very comic and at times leans towards 'Monty Python' but still manages to show a saintly reverence towards both filmmaker and author. Owen Goode's dapper gent Richard Hannay is at the centre of the action, a man bored with London life who yearns for an escape from his 'dull little rented flat' in Portland Place.

However, it doesn't take long for pipe smoking Hannay to find himself in a murky world of murder, spies, car chases, and steam trains and, I'd say, rather fetching hats. All it takes is a chance encounter at 'A Cockney Music Hall' with Laura Sherman's shady femme fatale Annabella Schmid that leads to an accusation of murder and the key plot device - what exactly are the 39 Steps? It cannot be an easy task for the actors. Laura Sherman has only three parts, yet, Christopher Hoult and Craig Daniels, in the course of the evening, take on over a hundred roles between them. Furthermore, this is against a minimal backdrop of twelve plus locations that takes in everything from 'The Forth Bridge' to 'The Scottish Moors'. Anyone familiar with the original works will swiftly recognise these striking places and their dramatic significance to the narrative.

With quick-fire costume changes, highly effective nifty props and sets, this ripping yarn rattles along at a cracking pace. One has to marvel at the out and out energetic performances of all four leads. Especially notable is the comic timing of Clown 1 (Hoult) and Clown 2 (Daniels) that takes it beyond farce and into a higher realm of dramatic comedy. One has to admit though that you cannot go wrong with this play, as it is so lovingly crafted and respectful to its outstanding source material - a gripping thriller of a bygone age. I'm not usually one for superlatives but in this case, I have to admit defeat and state - an excellent play and a great production.

Edited version of review posted on the Remotegoat website. 

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