Tag Archives: The 39 Steps

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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Review of The 39 Steps – 4 Stars

Steps

The 39 Steps

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Reviewed – 4th October 2017

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

“Moulder played Richard Hannay, the protagonist, amusingly well”

 

The 39 Steps was originally a thriller novel by John Buchan. It was famously brought to the silver screen by Alfred Hitchcock in the 1930s. Tonight’s take by the Tower Theatre Company was based on Patrick Barlow’s comic adaptation that ran for over nine years in the West End. The plot and characters are broadly in line with the film, with the notable difference that the scenes are now being played for laughs and with a cast of only four.

It was an accomplished performance by all concerned, and I would never have known it was the first performance of the run. It is a skilfully written adaptation and the actors served it well under the spot on direction of Rob Ellis.

Steps

Adam Moulder played Richard Hannay, the protagonist, amusingly well and there was a real ensemble feel between him and the other actors. Sophie Mackenzie, cleverly changed characters as required, as Annabella Schmidt initially, and then two other ladies romantically linked to Hannay. Dom Ward was excellent at bringing humour to each of his numerous roles, and made clever use of voices and characterisation. Emily Grimson was also a good sound part of the team, and there was no dropping of pace, by anyone, even when doing set changes.

By necessity, the staging was fairly simple. Costumes fitted the period and the part, but were quite basic to allow the actors to don different outfits quickly. Props were used effectively and imaginatively.

This production would perhaps benefit from a bigger space, and a longer run, as it was an incredibly entertaining way to spend an evening. I thoroughly enjoyed this pacy piece as did my companion, and the rest of the audience!

 

Reviewed for thespyinthestalls.com

Photography by Robert Piwko

 

 

THE 39 STEPS

is at Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 14th October

 

 

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