The 39 Steps | 13th – 18th February 2017

39-steps-poster-4The 39 Steps by John Buchan, adapted by Patrick Barlow.                                

Director: Paul Marshall

Based on the book and the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film, The 39 Steps is a splendid, nee dashingly handsome mix of comedy, adventure, mystery and thriller.

Richard Hannay is a bored London gentleman whose life suddenly becomes infinitely more interesting when a woman is murdered in his apartment. Who is she? Why did she take refuge with him? And what are the mysterious 39 Steps?

Framed for her murder, Hannay flees London for Scotland on a mission to find out the answers to these and other questions. Along the way he comes across an assortment of unusual and mysterious characters and is reluctantly accompanied by prim Pamela, who inadvertently finds herself handcuffed to Hannay. Will they save Britain from a den of devious spies?

A small cast plays countless characters in this wonderfully inventive and gripping comedy about an ordinary man on an extraordinarily entertaining adventure.

The 39 Steps by arrangement with Edward Snape for Fiery Angel Limited, John Buchan and Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, adapted by Patrick Barlow from an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon.

 

Cast
Richard Hannay………………………Geoff Dillon
Annabella/Pamela/Margaret……Alice Heather
‘Actors of many faces’………………Robert Hall, Emma Wickenden

Backstage
Stage Director & ASM…………….. Alan Matthews
Set Designer………………………….. Alan Matthews
Lighting Designer………………….. Andrew Herbert
Sound Designer……………………… Ivan Buckle
Projection Designer……………….. Jon Lewis
Set Construction……………………. Giles Elliot, Andrew Heather, Alan Matthews, Maggie Matthews, Ian Saunders
Set décor………………………………. Adrian Pope
Stage Manager……………………… Maggie Matthews
Lighting Operators……………….. Chloe Belgrave, James Quinn
Stage crew……………………………. Andrew Heather, Nina James
Technical support…………………. Ian James
Props…………………………………… Ann Herbert
Wardrobe…………………………….. Margaret Uzzell and the Wardrobe Team
Make up & hair…………………….. Jean Golder, Christine Lever
Prompt………………………………… Myrna Delecata

House Manager…………………….. John Heather
Refreshments…………………………Ann Herbert
Raffle…………………………………… Sandie Campbell
Box Office……………………………. Gillian Swinge
Programme Editor……………….. John Guttridge
Poster/programme design…….. Graham Copeland

The show

 

 

 

Backstage

 

In rehearsal

Show photos by Steve Challis.  Backstage & Rehearsal by Andrew Herbert

The 39 Steps review by John Oakenfull & Raymond Langford Jones:                                                         

“Many of the virtues of good community theatre were evident in Theatre 62’s February production of Patrick Barlow’s take on The 39 Steps. Much love and care had gone into making the show by its director, versatile cast – and a strong supporting design, technical and backstage team. Given the demands Barlow makes, it was a considerable achievement.

John Buchan’s Richard Hannay was to the WW1 generation what Ian Fleming’s James Bond was to its post-WW2 counterparts. His writing style, in the first-person, is matter-of-fact and clubby, nicely counterpointing Hannay’s deeds of daring-do

Matter-of-fact and clubby, however, don’t lead to exciting drama. Unsurprisingly, the various film versions turned the story into a suspenseful schoolboy adventure that drew you in on its own terms. Yet Barlow, whilst basing his play largely on the Hitchcock picture – Hitchcock being the master of suspense – and allowing it to move cinematically from one location to the next, has replaced the danger with stylish farce.  He even refers to the actors who play the many smaller roles as ‘clowns’ – changed here to ‘actors of many faces’

Which doesn’t make it wrong – just different. After all, the job of the theatre is to entertain, and let’s face it, a decade of satisfied customers in the West End must say something about its stage-worthiness. And the play certainly contains much, clever, well-paced dialogue. One, therefore, has to judge it on its own terms.

Director Paul Marshall always has an assured touch with light comedy. He had meticulously plotted the production; with every movement carefully choreographed, each piece of business finely tuned in rehearsed to coordinate, as appropriate, with scenery, props, sound and lighting. Nevertheless, so much detail can be treacherous for everyone on stage, if not perfected within an inch of its life. There can never be a moment when the momentum loses spontaneity of pace and attack. It’s all about energy. Occasionally at Theatre 62 one could see the machinery working, when it should glide effortlessly with total precision.

Designed to be staged using specific theatrical conventions, Hannay is played by the same actor throughout, with the three principal women’s roles given to one actor; whilst all the other roles are covered by just two performers both changing character – sometimes onstage – in the same scene. It was interesting that they were both originally male actors, but making one female here worked too, and also balanced the cast – a nice touch!

Much of the humour arises from stage business, such as the complicated ‘changing of hats’ in a scene involving quick-fire dialogue with two actors doubling for four characters – which was especially funny – as was the way Hannay extricated himself from beneath a dead woman’s body. Another hilarious moment was when the cast climbed out through the croft window.  Some jokes, however, went on a second or two longer than they should have done, though usually executed as specified in the text.

Despite the heavy demand for stage effects, with the luxury of more time, the director might have considered using light and sound to drive the action forward rather than letting it ‘react’ to the cast at certain points. Alan and Maggie Matthews had, however, brilliantly coordinated and choreographed the stage management of the production. Congratulations, to their well-drilled assistants also! The props were amazing – it’s only in retrospect one realises how many there were!

Alan Matthew’s simple black and white basic set and Adrian Pope’s décor overall worked well. All the solid prop doors etc brought on and off were excellent. There were some sections where it might have been even more effective having even less scenery for the actors to move. It’s a question of keeping to the adopted convention.

Andrew Herbert’s lighting design supported the production nicely. A small point, but in a perfect world, it might also have added to the period feel if the scenes of Edinburgh and the Highlands had been backed by projections of grainy black and white period postcards.

With regard to Ivan Buckle’s sound design, the use of Vivian Ellis’s nostalgic 1938 piece Coronation Scot and other musical extracts were spot-on, though some other recordings might more precisely have reflected the period.  Overall wardrobe had done a very good job though, again, a few costumes slightly missed the ‘30s period look. In a pastiche, they could be more exaggerated.

Geoff Dillon totally captured Hannay’s English ex-public-school, former-military-officer type, and his opening speech set the tone of the play and his character well; a nicely judged and stylish performance that never tipped over into caricature. Alice Heather provided three very well-contrasting ‘love interests’: the doomed, German Annabelle, the Scottish Margaret – and Pamela, the girl Hannay eventually falls for, and coped with the accents admirably.

Robert Hall and Emma Wickenden playing the many other roles, had developed a good stage partnership, looked good and worked very well together. They probably had the hardest jobs of all four actors, capturing and projecting each characterisation clearly, without dropping a cue or prop.

The piece depends much on technique and timing and is enormously challenging. The important thing is for all the cast to convey their enthusiasm to the audience without looking as if they are having fun. The sillier the scene, the more gravitas the acting requires. We’ve all seen productions where the cast was indulging itself at our expense – but not here.

On the Wednesday night, the burghers of West Wickham were having a high old time. Indeed, there was much to enjoy. Although the show would have been even more effective with a tad more attack and sharper awareness of period it was, nonetheless, very well done.”

The 39 Steps review by Peter Steptoe:

“This is the third time I have seen this play and I now look forward to what each director and his cast can add to amuse us. Theatre 62’s Director Paul Marshall and his cast were no exception and gave us nearly two hours of hilarity. It also seemed to me that this type of parody was peculiarly British and other countries might view it simply as rubbish.

To take the screen play of an Alfred Hitchcock film thriller based on a 1915 novel by John Buchan, starring Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll and turn it into a pastiche with a cast of four, three of whom played many parts with matching accents was great fun. This production had tremendous pace, excellent sound effects, and was brilliantly lighted, with imaginative props and sets.

Geoff Dillon as Richard Hannay was the epitome of the sort of chap that Sapper of Bulldog Drummond fame described as carrying on the little business of Empire, and his resourcefulness showed through. Alice Heather as the padlocked heroine to the hero did the stocking removal scene quite beautifully and maintained an understandable Scottish accent when playing Margaret the Crofter’s wife despite purporting to come from Glasgow.

The highest praise must go to Robert Hall and Emma Wickenden whose lightening quick costume changes complete with respective accents was a pleasure to behold. They were sexless in the sense that both played male or female with equal facility. I delighted in Emma’s Scottish Landlady and as the professor, and Robert as the professor’s wife.  His dying speech as the memory man was a tour de force in the field of memory. They both played extremely well together as rain coated villains, incompetent policemen, commercial travellers, news vendors, railway porters and sundry other characters too numerous to mention.

Theatre 62 did, indeed give us a night to remember.”       

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