Patrick Barlow’s excellent adaptation of The 39 Steps is based on its two best-known incarnations, John Buchan’s original 1915 novel and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film.
The adaptation is a spoof version which sees just four actors play the entire cast of characters, and this new production by the Stephen Joseph Theatre is played in the round, which adds another dimension.
As I’m sure you know, Richard Hannay has recently returned from Canada and is at a bit of a loose end in life when a woman he meets is killed at his flat. He’s in the frame for her murder and, on the run from the police, he sets about unmasking an international spy ring and proving his innocence.
To convey such a caper so well in one central round space with few props is a credit to the substantial imagination, skills and ingenuity of the director, actors and set, lighting and sound designers.
Using not smoke and mirrors but smoke, lighting and sound, despite receiving a comic twist the classic chase on the Flying Scotsman, dramatic escape from the Forth bridge and the plane crash are still thrilling to watch.
The sparse set contains a few large cases and some chairs which are used incredibly cleverly to create furniture, a train, a car, a hotel reception desk to name a few. These are supplemented by props moved on and off stage on castors to represent door frames, a gate and a street lamp and frames are thrown on stage as needed to represent windows and picture frames.
The actors are all extremely talented, delivering serious and comedic lines in a range of accents and engaging in some extremely physical scenes that show great skill and stamina. Sam Jenkins-Shaw is charming and energetic as Hannay and Amelia Donkor plays Annabella Schmidt, Pamela and Margaret. Among the spoof and satire it is heartening to see Hannay and Pamela’s love story develop without their realising it.
The rest of the legion characters, from news vendor to grumpy farmer, to innkeepers to villains to showmen – and everything in between – are played by Laura Kirman and Niall Ransome.
With clever and quick costume changes and adaptation, different voices, accents and physicality, they created each character convincingly, and very funnily. Kirman’s asides and Ransome’s expressions and ad-libs resulted in much hilarity. They were both extremely impressive and versatile.
The rest of the audience at Theatr Clwyd clearly enjoyed this play as much as I did.
The 39 Steps runs until September 22 – get your tickets as soon as you can and enjoy a very entertaining night out.