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