Review: The 39 Steps, New Theatre

Review by Sam Walker

The 39 Steps is an unusual beast. Following the novel written by John Buchan , the story has been adapted for film many times, most notably in 1935 by Alfred Hitchcock. While the Master of Suspense’s name may appear on the posters for this stage adaptation, the actual result could not be more different. While Hitchcock’s film is a tense thriller, this production is a melodrama – a parody of the classic British spy adventure. In this sense, this stop on the show’s UK tour is a complete success. From the opening announcement of turning off your ‘mechanical devices’ to the gloriously inventive shadow puppetry chase sequence, the show is indeed thrilling from beginning to end.

Richard Hannay (played by Richard Ede) is very well cast, and provides a strong, enthusiastic presence for the audience to latch onto, though he is often stuck as the ‘straight man’ of the cast (despite his exaggerated ‘British-ness’). Luckily, whenever Ede is stuck as the straight man, it allows the male ensemble (Andrew Hodges and Rob Witcomb) to really shine. The fabulous two-some play 135 characters throughout the course of the play, and it is to their credit that each portray themselves as distinct, and not merely a replica of the another.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Olivia Greene’s female characters. To be fair to Greene, as a parody of British spy thrillers, her female characters are more often than not window dressing – they are love interests for Hannay on his journey. But while her character’s two-dimensional characterisation is not her fault, the lack of distinction between her three characters cannot be easily explained. Pamela, Annabella and Margaret are all interchangeable; their accents being their only differentiation. These said accents are actually the biggest issue – Greene is often very hard to understand. Her projection as German spy Annabella is particularly poor, and rather sadly was only able to hear a small percentage of her dialogue. This may be no fault of her own, and rather a technical issue, but all the same, it should be mentioned.

In saying this, the real stars of this production are the crew. The show simply would not work if the crew were not spot-on with all of their many prop, lighting and sound cues – their work was impeccable, with not one notable issue. Despite problems with projection and pronunciation, the show is still an undisputed success, and is a hilarious night at the theatre.

The 39 Steps- an epic display of theatre.