Thursday, 31 January 2008

The 39 Steps - On Tour

The 39 Steps by John Buchanan
Adapted by Patrick Barlow
On Tour

Directed by David Newman
Reviewed by Diane Higgins

John Buchanans' classic novel 'The 39 Steps' was first delivered as a comedy thriller by Alfred Hitchcock in his classic 1935 black and white film. This production at Richmond Theatre, adapted by Patrick Barlow takes that comedy a step further, with a cast of four actors playing 139 parts in 100 minutes of fast packed action and dialogue. It follows the adventures of Richard Hannay, an innocent man who learns too much about the plans of a spy ring and is then suspected of murder and escapes to be pursued across Scotland.

The pace of this production was amazing and illustrates how enjoyable comedy can be when delivered really well. David Michaels as Richard Hannay was a very convincing thirties hero. Clare Swinburne, as firstly the shortlived Annabella Schmidt and then Pamela and Margaret was excellent. Colin Mace and Alan Perrin as the men who, between them played the remaining 135 parts were thoroughly entertaining

Every movement in this play worked to keep the pace and action moving, with the clever use of actors moving their own minimal props. This all served to heighten the comedy, from the synchronised actions of Mr Memory to the sight of the spies and the lampost yo-yoing on and off the stage as Hannay looks out of the window. This simple action had all the audience laughing. At one point in the play Hannay gatecrashes an election rally arriving onstage to find himself mistaken for the propspective candidates and being introduced to the audience by a totally inaudible Mr Quarry, played by Alan Perrin.

The inaudible speech, coupled with the slow exaggerated actions were very reminiscent of Marcel Marceau, with a bit of Chaplin aswell. Similarly, playing the scots woman I was reminded of one of Stanley Baxters great characters. Both Colin Mace and Alan Perrin gave remarkable performances with the speed yet clarity of dialogue, the change of accents and costumes. The train and station scene which involved all four charachters was outstanding. A combination of a clever use of their physical movements, a moving station sign and Hannay and Pamela waving their hats which exactly evoked the movement of the train and wind.

All four actors worked perfectly together as a cohesive ensemble, their performances were faultless, this made for a very lively, funny, and extremely enjoyable evening.

Photos show: Top - David Michaels as Hannay Bottom - David Michaels & Claire Swinbourne

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