The 39 Steps: A ripping good tale of derring-do

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Patrick Barlow's stage production of The 39 Steps, showing at The Everyman until Saturday, takes the seed of 'Boy's Own' adventure comedy and runs with it – all over the Scottish highlands

The 39 Steps: A ripping good tale of derring-do

 

Amy Hulyer has a jolly good night out at The Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham Already reimagined three times for the big screen, The 39 Steps has come a long way since John Buchan’s original 1915 tale of espionage and derring-do. In the first (and frankly, the best) of the three films, Alfred Hitchcock turns Buchan’s story on its head, adds a love interest and, alongside a good dose of stiff upper lip, injects a side order of comedy to the ‘Boy’s Own’ adventure. Patrick Barlow’s stage production, showing at The Everyman until Saturday, takes this seed of comedy and runs with it – all over the Scottish highlands.The plot follows unwitting hero Richard Hannay, a man who yearns for more than his comfortable existence in London’s fashionable Portland Place. His search for mindless entertainment is answered by a chance encounter with a glamorous secret agent at the theatre. The spy is killed in his flat, our hero is accused of murder and Hannay becomes Britain’s most wanted. Embroiled in a conspiracy which threatens national safety, Hannay sets out to foil the dastardly plot, clear his own name and discover the true meaning of the cryptic 39 steps.With just four actors playing a staggering 139 characters, the performance is an exhilarating, fast-paced romp through Hannay’s Britain. The staging and acting are outstanding – inventive and polished in the same measure. Richard Ede dons the tweed to play our dashing hero with impeccable timing, charm and a well-groomed pencil moustache.Hannay’s three love interests are brought brilliantly to life by Charlotte Peters in a performance which manages to be both haughty and wistful. From the vampish foreign agent she transforms into a lonely Scottish beauty, before becoming the Hitchcock inspired blonde-bombshell who our hero becomes handcuffed to in the Highlands. Many of the plays’ jokes comes courtesy of Tony Bell and Gary Mackay who play the entire supporting cast, alternating from bungling detective, to sinister spies, to over-enthusiastic hotel owners via the quite marvellous Mr Memory – and often playing several parts at a time – to hugely comedic effect.With a set that transforms from high-speed trains to the London Palladium at a moment’s notice, an ironic 1930s film score accompaniment and a damn good sprinkling of Hitchcock references for film buffs to enjoy, The Fiery Angel Ltd. production of The 39 Steps is a relentlessly entertaining spoof of the spy-thriller – and a jolly good night out for those with even the stiffest of upper lips. You can see The 39 Steps at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham until Saturday, February 2, at Swindon Wyvern Theatre from February 4-9, Bath Theatre Royal from March 18-23, Malvern Theatre June 17-22 and Oxford Playhouse June 24-29. Full details available at www.love39steps.com

 

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