The 39 Steps
York Theatre Royal
26-30 March 2013
Reviewed by Erica Bourn
Mix an Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece with a juicy spy novel, add a dash of vintage Monty Python and you have the 39 Steps, a hilarious whodunit, part espionage thriller and part slapstick comedy, adapted for the stage by Patrick Barlow.
The shows credentials are first rate: won numerous awards, (including the Olivier Award and Whatsonstage Theatregoers' Choice Award); is in its sixth year at the Criterion Theatre and is currently playing in 26 countries. The visit to York Theatre Royal is one leg of a national tour, which began in Cambridge in January and will run until the end of July, and is expertly directed by Maria Aitken.
This vintage spy thriller is set in 1930's Britain, when the suave, moustache sporting Richard Hannay, (brilliantly played by Richard Ede, who understudied in the West End version), visits the theatre in an effort to break the monotony of his life back in Blighty, having returned from adventures abroad. Shots ring out and Hannay is lured into a world of intrigue by the glamorous and mysterious Annabella Schmidt, (the enchanting Charlotte Peters), claiming to be a spy and having the fate of national security in her hands. When she winds up dead in his flat, he flees London with the police hot on his trail, and the caper unfolds.
Just two other actors complete the cast list, and incredibly pull off 100 plus characters in the story, which is told relying on the principals sheer skill of their craft rather than numerous set changes or props. Tony Bell and Gary Mackay, are billed in the program simply as "man", yet in reality are everything from coppers to train guards, underwear salesmen and old ladies.
The four all put in stunning performances, which had the right level of dramatic tension and impeccable comic timing – chuckles, belly laughs and about everything in between could be heard emanating from the audience.
There was a host of visual delights, ranging from a miniature train hurtling across the stage to shadow-play for a biplane crash with echoes of North by North West. This was not the only nod to Hitchcock, with various references throughout.
Highly recommended and thoroughly enjoyable. Whereas our hero Hannay scales the Forth Bridge and runs along a moving train in his quest, I may not go quite as far to get a ticket but would certainly go to some lengths to grab one if I could. The York run sadly finishes on the 30th, but look out for it at a theatre near you. Oh, and come back to York again soon!
Tickets cost from £10-£22
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