THEATRE REVIEW: The 39 Steps

Trevor Gager

Originally adapted in 2006 by actor & playwright Patrick Barlow, this theatre production has been a triumph both in the West End & Broadway where it walked away with two of its six nominated Tony Awards.
THEATRE REVIEW: The 39 Steps
When I first heard about a stage production of John Buchan’s The 39 Steps I was somewhat skeptical. It always seemed to me that anything relating to this story since Alfred Hitchcock’s original interpretation in 1935 has disappointed in some way shape or form and that this latest offering would be no different. I also questioned that maybe this particular story had well and truly run its course and that audiences were perhaps simply too mature in this day and age to relate to such a piece. How wrong I was and how happy I am that this version has been created for The 39 Stepshas once again found new life and with it a new audience. Originally adapted in 2006 by actor & playwright Patrick Barlow, this theatre production has been a triumph both in the West End & Broadway where it walked away with two of its six nominated Tony Awards. It first appeared in Australia last year thanks to the Melbourne Theatre Company and this latest touring production sees producers Andrew Kay & Liza Mclean team up with the original West End producer Edward Snape. What makes this stage version so radically different from its film predecessors is that Barlow has been able to skillfully morph Buchan’s twisted tale of romance, murder and espionage into a fully fledged comedy. This is no small feat when you consider that it still manages to keep the essence of Hitchcock’s initial interpretation intact. Make no mistake about it this is an extremely well conceived show. By adhering to the original script where needed much of the stories emotional integrity has remained. However with the inclusion of some brilliant one liner’s (delivered with perfect comic timing) the script suddenly takes on a whole new persona. But as good as all the dialogue is it’s actually the visual humour that takes this show to a whole new place. Through simple but hilarious choreography and some brilliant moments of impromptu awkwardness the actors have the time of their lives milking some of the best visual gags I have ever seen on stage. Now add into this equation the fact that there only four actors and yet a total of 139 different parts to play in 100 minutes and suddenly you have yet another layer to this already innovative production. Most of these parts incidentally were actually performed by just two people, the talented and highly versatile Drew Forsythe and Jo Turner who jumped effortlessly from character to character without missing a beat. The lead role - that of falsely accused futurtive Richard Hannay was portrayed with effortless vigor & flair by Mark Pegler. Complete with pencil thin mustache, mandatory stiff upper lip, and an extremely well executed accent - he manages to stay remarkably close to that of the original Robert Donat character whilst adding his own original comedic twist. Being the solo female of the cast, Helen Christinson gets to play not one but three sassy seductresses - the spy, the down trodden housewife and the stories heroin, not bad for a night’s work! Although I really enjoyed her energy I did feel that her accents in all three characters were slightly confused and certainly not up to the rest of the cast. You should be able to tell by now that I had a thoroughly good evening and that I whole heartily recommend this show. I was left with that rare feeling that I had just watched something truly inspired and would have quite easily have sat through it again! I cannot finish this review without also mentioning the Frankston Art Centre. Not only do they have a fabulous Theatre and facilities but are also blessed to have some of the friendliest staff I have had the pleasure of meeting. Tickets Adult - $47, Conc/ Matinee - $42, Under 26 - $26 Bookings 9784 1060 Venue Frankston Arts Centre Start date 18 Feb 2009 End date 21 Feb 2009 artscentre.frankston.vic.gov.au

About the author

Trevor Gager is Company Memberships Manager for ArtsHub.
When he’s not in the office you will find him listening to Bowie, Classical Music, and breaking up fights between his two Cats (Pablo & Andy).