The 39 Steps - Theatre ☆☆☆☆4
Showing from - Monday, April 4, 2016 through till Saturday, April 9, 2016
Liverpool Playhouse - Liverpool
Johanna Roberts | Tuesday, April 5, 2016
The first laugh comes about two minutes in to this clever, engaging, and witty production, and from then on, the laughs keep coming.
Based on the Hitchcock film rather than Buchan’s novel, the play ostensibly tells the story of main character Richard Hannay’s attempt to uncover a spy ring while on the run for a murder he didn’t commit, a journey during which he meets the beautiful Pamela and a myriad of other characters. It’s breathtaking just to watch as the energy crackles on the stageThe magic, and much of the comedy, comes from all the characters being played by just four actors and the ingenious manipulation of costumes, props, and lighting, all held together by a tour de force of comic timing and choreography.
Richard Ede is excellent as archetypal hero Hannay – dashing, strong and with what we are told is a very attractive pencil moustache – while Olivia Greene plays a trio of attractive female characters. This leaves Andrew Hodges and Rob Witcomb playing, well, everyone else, be they male or female; policemen or spies; Scottish, English or German; and, in some cases, playing a carousel of different characters in the same scene by dint of lightening costume changes involving wigs, hats, coats and accents. Indeed, it’s breathtaking just to watch as the energy crackles on the stage.
Running alongside the story of Hannay is a second story of four actors and their staging of the play. Thus, we have pointed remarks regarding tardy phones, fire and fog, and just when the pace starts to flag or you feel the production is becoming a tad self indulgent, timely out-of-character reminders from cast members to ‘Get on with it!’ or ‘Just get off!’ keep it moving along.
This self-aware theatricality also comes to the fore with the ingenious use of props and set. Doors become wardrobes become bedrooms, luggage is transformed into both the inside and the roof of a train, while four chairs quickly form a car, but with the audience kept onside by being invited to acknowledge the success or failure of the illusion. The use of shadow puppets and silhouettes is both effective and funny in condensing into minutes the lengthy chase across the Highlands. Again, this self-awareness is highlighted by the use of the conventions of the spy thriller – men in trenchcoats lurking under lampposts, and glamorous foreign agents - and further appears with nods to Hitchcock’s oeuvre; I spotted Vertigo, Psycho and The Birds, but I’m sure there were many I’ll have missed.
A brilliantly spun yarn offering a fabulously fun evening of theatre.
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