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Reflections of a working writer and reader



The 39 Steps

This play came to the York Theatre Royal via the West End and Broadway, and a few other places. It won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy and garnered a host of positive critical reviews:

Rollicking fun” The Times
Dizzyingly entertaining” The Telegraph
A joyous version of the Hitchcock classic” Sunday Times

So we were expecting something a little special.

Based on John Buchan’s novel and the well-known film version from Alfred Hitchcock, The 39 Steps is adapted by Patrick Barlow and directed by Maria Aitken and performed by a stalwart cast of four actors (playing 139 roles in 100 minutes of fast-paced action).

For the uninitiated the play follows the incredible adventures of a handsome hero, Richard Hannay, complete with stiff-upper-lip and pencil moustache as he encounters murder, secret agents, and beautiful women.

At the opening of the play our hero is bored with the tedium of his life, tired of newspapers bearing tales of elections and wars and rumours of wars. He longs for something mindless and trivial. Something utterly pointless. I know! he says. I’ll go to the theatre!

It is, of course, a spoof spy thriller which both mocks and celebrates the genre. And the script is original and creative, managing to combine spies, music hall and shadow puppets in ways that should be hilarious but quite often fall short.

Music from the films Psycho and Vertigo pop up during the performance as well as name checks for at least two other Hitchcock films. There’s even an appearance by the great man himself, albeit in shadow puppet form.

To be honest, I expected to laugh long and loud during this play and successfully chase away some of the English winter blues. But in spite of the good script, the enormous energy of the cast and the obvious potential for zany comedy, it rarely prized more than a smile and a chuckle from me.

A bad night? Could be. The 39 Steps plays York until the 29th March, then:

Mon 31 Mar – Sat 5 Apr – Theatre Royal Windsor
Mon 7 – Sat 12 Apr – Newcastle Theatre Royal
Mon 14 – Sat 19 Apr – Coventry Belgrade
Mon 21 – Sat 26 Apr – Guildford Yvonne Arnaud
Mon 28 Apr – Sat 3 May – Plymouth Theatre Royal
Mon 12 – Sat 17 May – Bath Theatre Royal
Mon 19 – Sat 24 May – Colchester Mercury Theatre
Tue 27 – Sat 31 May – Canterbury Marlowe Theatre
Mon 2 – Sat 7 Jun – Salford Lowry
Mon 9 – Sat 14 Jun – Sheffield Lyceum
Mon 16 – 21 Jun – Belfast Grand Opera House

13 Responses to “The 39 Steps”

  1. Peter says:

    I saw it in London, and I had no idea it would be such a spoof-a-rama. There is some marvelous stagecraft in the production, but theatregoers need to be forewarned that they are in for slapstick, rather than the suspense of Buchan and the suspense and light humor of Hitchcock.

    I posted a comment at , if you’d care to take a look. (The accompanying photograph is not from the stage set, but rather from the glorious East Devon coast near Budleigh Salterton, taken a few days after I saw the play.)

    jb says: Hi Peter. I did know it was going to be farce, and that was OK by me. My main gripe is that it didn’t quite work for me.

  2. Peter says:

    I had one fellow behind me hooting with laughter in my right ear all evening and his friend snorting, honking and guffawing in my left. That detracted from my enjoyment.

    jb says: Your guys weren’t at the performance I saw, but some people obviously enjoyed it more than others. There’s little worse than others enjoying themselves when all around is pastel-coloured mediocrity. It’s like being at church when you’re the only one without a tambourine.

  3. shannon says:

    hello i went to watch this play not long ago in the west end and i thought it was fantastic it was hillarious and nicely pput together. i am studying the 39 steps as a gcse in drama and i find the play highly reccomendable to watch its great !

    jb says: Hi Shannon. Takes a lot to beat theatre, especially when it’s good.

  4. cpowell says:

    who are the actors fantastic show

  5. Mel says:

    I absolutely cannot believe this review! I was in stitches the entire time and believe this to be the most amazing theatre comedy I ever had the privledge of sitting in the back row seats for! Absolutely amazing production!

    jb says: I did say it could have been a bad night, Mel.

  6. Kenny says:

    I haven’t seen this yet but I’m a fan of the original Hitchcock movie. There’s no way to build the same suspense that you get ina movie in to a play, so it’s no surprise the producers have gone for a more comedic interpretation.

    jb says: Hi Kenny. The movie and the play are completely different beasties.

  7. Peter says:

    It may be worthwhile remembering that Hitchcock took almost as many liberties with John Buchan’s story as this production took with Hitchcock’s movie.

    jb says: Hi Peter. Point taken, and I think it’s OK to take liberties if the final script or production or whatever comes out good.

  8. Sam says:

    Im doing this play for A-level monologue, and it looks great. I have only just chosen to do this particular play, and was wondering if there was anywhere that i could buy the script, in play form, for my reading. Thanks again.

    jb says: Have you asked google, Sam?

  9. Sam says:

    i have, and i get a television script, and books. no actual play scripts. I have also tried amazon, but again, more books. thanks.

    jb says: Hello again, Sam. If you go to Simon Corble’s page, you’ll see that many of his scripts are available, but not the one you are looking for. But it will be sooner or later, or you could contact Simon to see if he’s thinking of publishing it soon.

  10. Sam says:

    Thanks very much for your help, i have managed to obtain a script!
    best of luck! Sam

  11. Amelia says:

    Sam! I have been looking EVERYWHERE for a script to this show, because I am trying to do it for my senior thesis project. (My exhaustive search has lead me here). WHERE DID YOU FIND IT? Could you PLEASE help me find one for myself? Or maybe even scan yours and send it to me? I am truly desperate. Thanks so much.

  12. Carlos Maciá says:

    Sam, I’d love a cpy as well. Where did you get it? Please contact me as I’m a drama teacher and very interested in gettin gmy hands on this script. Thanks!

  13. yalova veteriner says:

    Sam, I’d love a cpy as well. Where did you get it? Please contact me as I’m a drama teacher and very interested in gettin gmy hands on this script. Thanks!