THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS
by Patrick Barlow.
Mon–Sat 8pm Mat Tue 3pm Sat 4pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 0207 437 4370.
Review: Harriet Davis 24tJanuary 2007.
Inventive stuff away from the cutting-edge.
John Buchan’s classic crime novel has been subject to numerous adaptations, most famously Hitchcock’s 1935 thriller. Maria Aitkin’s production of Patrick (National Theatre of Brent) Barlow’s stage version sees the excellent Charles Edwards as Richard Hannay, the wrongly-accused English gentleman on the run. Rupert Degas and Simon McCormack provide (ample) support and Rachel Pickup takes over from Catherine McCormack as love-interest Madeleine.
With strong emphasis on physical comedy and an eye for 1930s cinema, this colourful, tongue-in-cheek production provides plenty to smile about. The cast dutifully throw themselves into the multiple roles (amounting to over a hundred in all), and Peter McKintosh’s chaotic staging is inspired. Edwards in particular shines, and the newly-cast Pickup seems more than equipped to match him.
Constant filmic references provide a fitting context for the action, and cleverly address the problem of adapting from screen to stage. Using little more than four chairs, a couple of ladders and a door, the cast create a moving train, a waterfall and the Forth Bridge, among others. Ian Scott provides complex lighting, and makes inventive use of silhouettes. The chase sequences in particular are a joy.
Admittedly, occasional gags are overlong and some of the jokes seem obvious. There are moments – notably in the first half – where the humour feels somewhat outdated. Hannay’s stiff-upper-lip charm belongs in a different era, and no amount of knowing winks can make us believe otherwise. Barlow’s script could also use a little trimming, and may have benefited from a shorter running time.
Overall though, this is solid stuff. Aitkin directs with panache, and never allows the silliness to slip into self-indulgence. The production is nicely paced, and despite a slightly overlong opening, it never drags. The cast hold up well in the face of serious challenges, and the audience responds well. Although a far cry from cutting-edge theatre, this is highly enjoyable, affectionate fun.
Cast: Charles Edwards, Rupert Degas, Simon McCormack, Rachel Pickup.
Director: Maria Aitkin.
Designer/Costume: Peter McKintosh.
Lighting: Ian Scott.