The 39 Steps is a bold choice for a student production. Based on the classic novel by John Buchan, it has been adapted for both the screen and stage attracting iconic names such as Hitchcock, Kenneth More and Robert Donat. With such a formidable heritage, this production had a lot to live up to, and it did.
Upon entering the intimacy of the Barron Theatre, the audience was met with the sound of 1930s jazz. The play opened with a comedic scene set up by the cast. Silence fell as Tom Giles took the stage as the archetypal, charismatic English gentleman Richard Hannay. Hannay has just returned to London. However, a trip to the theatre soon ends in a cross-country man-hunt, with the baffled and charming Hannay falsely accused of murder. The lovable rogue must negotiate a number of farcical situations in an attempt to learn the secret of the 39 steps and clear his name.
The play managed to navigate tricky staging with creativity and great humour from the start, using number of sound effects and clever intermediary scenes. The versatility of the set was only to be outdone by that of the cast. With only five actors, the audience was captivated by the diversity of Adam Spencer, Becca Scwarz and Scott Wilson who took on a vast array of characters. The three ‘clowns’ as they were billed had the audience in raucous laughter throughout the night, impressing with diverse characterisation, fantastic facial expressions and what can only be called a natural aptitude for slap-stick comedy.
The comic timing of Spencer and Scwarz was flawless, while special mention has to be made of Wilson’s uncanny portrayal of the Scottish farmer. All three managed to add an energy to the production that helped carry the constantly twisting plot.
With each adaptation taking on slightly different characters and plot twists Madeleine Inskeep presented a classic take on The 39 Steps. Giles portrayal of the dashing and somewhat perplexed Englishman was consistent and engaging. Despite some issues with the handcuffs throughout the performance, Giles’ never missed a beat. His professionalism combined with comic timing made this small prop flaw a highlight of the night and running joke with the audience that was shared by the equally unflappable Hannah Raymond Cox.
The use of light, sound and movement in the play added to the experience. The directing of the classic train getaway scene was immaculately executed and would have left even Buster Keaton a little impressed. With clever staging that encompassed the audience as a part of the show on a number of occasions the production managed to accomplish many imaginative scenes with very little.
Despite a few lighting errors and prop faux pas, which can only be expected on opening night, The 39 Steps was innovative and hilarious. From directing and staging to the professionalism and diversity of the cast, this adaptation certainly lived up to expectations. If nothing else it certainly cheered up the audience on a dreary, autumnal night.
Photo Credit: Katie Brennan