r>The 39 Steps/dapted from John Buchan novel/Alfred Hitchcock film by Patrick Barlow The Thirty Nine Steps, a CurtainUp London review CurtainUp
CurtainUp

The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings
www.curtainup.com


HOME PAGE

SITE GUIDE

SEARCH

REVIEWS

FEATURES

NEWS
Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


LISTINGS
Broadway
Off-Broadway

NYC Restaurants

BOOKS and CDs

OTHER PLACES
Berkshires
London
California
DC
Philadelphia
Elsewhere

QUOTES

On TKTS

PLAYWRIGHTS' ALBUMS

LETTERS TO EDITOR

FILM

LINKS

MISCELLANEOUS
Free Updates
Masthead
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London London Review
The Thirty Nine Steps


Google
Web    
www.curtainup.com

Am I right Sir?
---- Mr Memory
The Thirty Nine Steps
Catherine McCormack and Charles Edwards
(Photo: Tristram Kenton)
This highly entertaining staging of John Buchan's classic story of derring-do was first seen at the West Yorkshire Playhouse last year and has now transferred from the Tricycle to the West End. It is based on Alfred Hitchcock's famous 1935 film rather than the original 1915 novel.

Buchan wrote a gripping straight thriller, into which Hitchcock introduced humour and romance, but Patrick Barlow's adaptation (from an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon) sends up the whole genre of stiff upper lip heroic exploits. And as a self-consciously theatrical spoof it works hilariously well.

Maria Aitken's frenetically paced and visually inventive production uses just four actors to tell the story which, to use a Hitchcockian term, revolves around a "MacGuffin" - that is, what actually drives the plot forward doesn't really matter as the audience simply goes along with the flow while enjoying the set pieces.

After debonair gentleman-adventurer Richard Hannay (Charles Edwards) discovers that a foreign enemy spy ring called "The Thirty Nine Steps" is trying to smuggle scientific-military secrets out of Britain, he sets out to stop them single-handedly while also being chased by the police who, wrongly, of course, suspect him of murder. Or whatever.

The joy of the show is in seeing how a bewildering succession of scenarios and characters are evoked so splendidly with the creative use of props and costumes. In Peter McKintosh's innovative design, packing cases and stepladders are used for a breathless chase across the roof of the Flying Scotsman travelling over the Forth Bridge, while silhouettes on a screen and dried ice suggest Hannay's pursuit over the mist-bound moors of the Scottish Highlands.

This affectionate parody of Buchan and Hitchcock (which features music from both Psycho and Vertigo) is done with such style that it never becomes tiresome. In fact, the show also sends up the world of am dram, as much fun is had by moving doors and window frames with comic artifice to facilitate sudden entrances and exits, and there are plenty of "deliberate mistakes" when lights come on off-cue or wigs fall off.

Edwards plays the square-jawed Hannay with just the right amount of phlegmatic self-assurance, employing a bemused expression or arched eyebrow to great effect, but not going over the top. The rest of the cast are at full throttle in their multiple roles.

The excellent Catherine McCormack moves from being a black-clad, German-accented femme fatale, to a shy, impressionable crofter's wife, and a dumb but genteel blonde handcuffed to Hannay who reluctantly falls for his charms. Rupert Degas and Simon Gregor show a chameleon-like, gender-bending virtuosity in playing all the other parts, including bumbling policemen, enemy agents, local Highlanders and (respectively) the gloating Nazi villain Professor Jordan and the robotic yet pathetic Mr Memory, who is "programmed" to answer any question he is asked even if it means betraying his nefarious employers, The Thirty Nine Steps.

THE THIRTY NINE STEPS
Adapted from John Buchan novel/Alfred Hitchcock film by Patrick Barlow (from an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon)
Directed by Maria Aitken

Starring: Charles Edwards, Catherine McCormack, Rupert Degas, Simon Gregor
Design: Peter McKintosh
Lighting: Ian Scott
Sound: Mic Pool
Movement: Toby Sedgwick
A West Yorkshire Playhouse production
Running time: Two hours with one interval
Box Office: 020 7413 1437
Booking to 13th January 2007
Reviewed by Neil Dowden based on September 20th 2006 performance at the Criterion Theatre, Piccadilly Circus, London W1 (Tube: Piccadilly Circus)
London Theatre Tickets
Lion King Tickets
Billy Elliot Tickets
Mary Poppins Tickets
Mamma Mia Tickets
We Will Rock You Tickets
Theatre Tickets


London Theatre Walks


Peter Ackroyd's  History of London: The Biography



London Sketchbook



tales from shakespeare
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.
Our Review


©Copyright 2006, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from esommer@curtainup.com