Tag Archives: Patrick Barlow

The 39 Steps

The 39 Steps

★★★

The Maltings Theatre

The 39 Steps

The 39 Steps

The Maltings Theatre

Reviewed – 6th October 2020

★★★

 

“Adam Nichols’ direction delivers a well-oiled and well-crafted two hours, though the chaos is overplayed”

 

Having been at the forefront of the campaign to allow live open-air performance to re-start in the summer months – presenting a two-week long theatre festival – The Maltings is now back with an indoor, COVID-safe Autumn programme. The safety measures are well-thought out and implemented, from bubble-seating to an in-seat drinks service and a one-way system to the loos at the interval, and the delight of this socially-distanced capacity crowd at being back in the building was palpable. This was an audience which had really missed live performance, was thrilled to be back, and was determined to have a good time. The show garnered laughter and spontaneous applause aplenty throughout.

Patrick Barlow’s 2005 script follows on from the original four-person version by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon ten years before, which is itself an adaptation of the 1935 screen version of John Buchan’s original 1915 spy novel. It’s a rollicking ride of a show, with three actors playing an enormous cast of characters – cops, villains, hoteliers, milkmen, paper boys – as well as the main roles, and one actor playing Richard Hannay, at the centre of all the mayhem. There are costume changes galore, and much ingenious manipulation of on-stage furniture and props to create cars, trains, aeroplanes, and even the Forth Bridge at one point, which is all tightly choreographed and managed with great skill by the performers. Simon Nicholas and Flora Squires, in particular, form a hugely skilful and energetic comedy team as the clowns who, between them, take on the majority of the minor roles and transformations.

James Douglas is terrific as the hapless Hannay, bumbling his way through this extraordinary tale, and Hannah Baker deals ably with the three larger female roles. Simon Nicholas’ chaotic-seeming set, resembling the prop store in a theatre, is a perfect and precise construction, with everything artfully poised to enable the smooth-running of this extremely business-heavy show. Adam Nichols’ direction delivers a well-oiled and well-crafted two hours, though the chaos is overplayed, and the breaking of the fourth wall wears a bit thin. The ‘things not quite working as they should’ gag is definitely overused, and the continual ironic ‘broad strokes’ approach to minor characterisation becomes wearisome and means that, despite a lot of manic stage action, the pace does drag at times.

One of the pleasures of the 1935 film adaptation is the contrast in tone between the extreme seriousness of the task at hand and the joyful silliness of our hero handcuffed to the protesting Pamela. By realising the entire story as a comedy caper, and not honouring the thriller element of the plot, much of the humour’s pleasure is lost. Just as the enlivening bubbles in a good Scotch and soda soften and prolong the complex flavours of a single malt, so the laughs help us to digest Buchan’s rather serious message about the perils of seductive fascism. All soda and no Scotch is simply criminal, as Richard Hannay would most certainly agree.

 

Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Pavel Gonevski

 

The 39 Steps

The Maltings Theatre until 10th October

 

Previously reviewed:
Henry V | ★★★★ | The Maltings | August 2020

 

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The Messiah
★★★★

The Other Palace

The Messiah

The Messiah

The Other Palace

Reviewed – 11th December 2018

★★★★

“brims with intelligent, self aware, sharply crafted stagery”

 

Of all the British theatre traditions, the Christmas Pantomime is the one that survives most intact into the digital age. Companies as diverse as Stratford East, Theatre 503, and of course Hackney Empire produce amazing work keeping the institution alive. For other audiences, a tasteful interpretation of Ebenezer Scrooge’s misfortunes or an elegant, orchestral candlelit carol service might mark the holiday season.

With Lesley Garrett’s ethereal voice and John Marquez and Hugh Dennis’ brilliant comic timing, The Messiah is the best of both of these worlds. It’ll hold up well in front of a family audience, with plenty of innocent, wholesome wordplay alongside bawdier jokes, old-fashioned physical slapstick, and audience participation sequences that will have grown adults clutching each other with sheer glee. But there are also treasures to uncover for those who come looking for theatre to sink their teeth into.

The set design is so beautiful it manages to make me nostalgic for a period I wasn’t around to see. So many details in the choreography and lighting are lovingly put together to enhance the mood and even the intermission music recalls a golden age of epic biblical films.

With the cast, it’s impossible to really dislike Hugh Dennis’ Maurice. The actor is just too endearing, so his character isn’t pompous or nasty enough to need taking down a peg or two. John Marquez’s lovely Ronald spins right through from bumbling crotch gags to very spare, excruciating glimpses into his lonely life.

Patrick Barlow’s anarchic, sincere production has a certain homemade charm but brims with intelligent, self aware, sharply crafted stagery. It’s not difficult to see why his beloved 39 Steps ran for nine years on the West End.

I left The Other Palace thinking that the scope of someone’s theatrical ambition is achieved heart-first. Their spiritual awakening is a personal responsibility. And you know what? Sometimes a big Pinocchio nose is just very, very funny.

 

Reviewed by Cesía León-Alvarez

Photography by Robert Day

 


The Messiah

The Other Palace until 5th January

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Eugenius! | ★★★★ | February 2018
Suicide | ★★★½ | May 2018
Bromance: The Dudesical | ★★★★ | October 2018

 

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