The 39 Steps Review

May 28, 2010


The most marvelous thing happened to me at the theatre last night. I was entertained. From start to finish The 39 Steps immersed us in the magic of theatre, using minimal props and costumes to perfectly capture the sense of place and time. Based on the Hitchcock movie rather than John Buchan’s source novel, it uses four actors and a shit load of ingenuity to bring to life 250 characters, several locations and a cinematic plot that called for a bi-plane crash, a chase on the roof of a speeding train, a foggy moor and a dangle of a bridge.

Not for writer Patrick Barlow the large-scale special effects of your typical West End Show. Instead the cast manipulate light and sound, shadows and puppets to lovingly highlight the ridiculousness of theatre and the power of the human imagination. It’s the closest I’ve come to pantomime for adults and brought me back to those wonderful childhood theatre trips that had me slack-jawed, fully engaged and screaming for more. It’s performed at break neck speed with actors literally changing character( and sex) with the drop of a hat, props appearing seemingly from nowhere and exasperated performers breaking character to let you know they are in on the act.

The whole thing is just fantastically funny with a cast so committed to what they are doing they make us see what isn’t there. My only concern is that too much time is spent on winking and nudging that the basic story at its core, the thriller and the romance, barely get a look in.


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