Home Theatre Reviews The 39 Steps by John Buchan and Alfred Hitchcock

The 39 Steps by John Buchan and Alfred Hitchcock

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Adapted by Patrick Barlow and directed by Theresa Heskins

I am sure that if someone had told John Buchan in 1915 that his recently published novel about spies and villainy in wartime Britain would be turned into a comedy on stage he would have regarded it as something more unbelievable than some of the plotting of his novel. If you had then told him that four actors would play all of the parts in the story he would have doubted your sanity.

However in the latest production at the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle that is exactly what happens and it has to be said that, by and large, the production, which owes slightly more to Alfred Hitchcock’s film of 1936 than the original novel, is a great success.

This is a parody of what Buchan originally intended in his spy novel but it also manages to slip in mentions of Hitchcock films such as North by Northwest. Just see how many you can spot when you visit this production.

Richard Hannay (Isaac Stanmore) has a dead woman in his flat to explain and goes on the run to Scotland pursued by an assortment of policemen and foreign spies. Hannay, of course is innocent, and the dead woman, Annabella Schmidt (Rebecca Brewer), has told him about a plot to undermine the air defences of Britain.

His journey takes him onto a train where he meets Pamela, who initially gives him away but ultimately helps him to escape his pursuers. Further adventures follow at the Highland home of Dr Jordan, a Scottish hotel, and finally the London Palladium.

The plot though is pretty irrelevant as the audience is carried along by the enthusiasm of the cast.
With minimal props and cast of just four they act out the whole story. Michael Hugo (last seen at the New Vic as Passpartout in Around the World in Eighty Days) and Gareth Cassidy are an amazing double act as they become various policemen, spies, newspaper salesmen, a cow and in one hilarious scene, a pair of Scottish hotel keepers.

They keep the audience in stitches as they tumble around the stage, changing costumes and characters at breakneck speed. It is their energy which prevents the audience from thinking too much about the sparse plotting and helps them to believe in the amazing use of the props.

If there is one small criticism it would be that the second half flags slightly as the need for plot outweighs the comedy, however on the press night a very good audience gave the production a standing ovation at the end. There can certainly be no better recommendation than that, and if you want a laugh out loud evening this is the production for you.

“The 39 Steps” runs at the New Vic Theatre until Saturday March 30th.

Telephone the box office for tickets on 01782 717962 or email tickets@newvictheatre.org.uk

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Ian Corbishley
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