THE 39 STEPS: Adapted Barlow, Theatre Royal Nottingham till 19th June (touring)

Nottingham/Touring

THE 39 STEPS: adapted Barlow.
Theatre Royal: Tkts 0115 989 5555 www.royalcentre-nottingham.co.uk.
Runs: 1h 50m: one interval: till 19th June.
Performance times: 7.30pm, (matinees 2.00pm Wed, 2.30pm Sat).
Review: Alan Geary: 14th June 2010.

As brilliant as ever.
The thirties, as everyone knows, were nowt but dole queues and slag heaps – wrong. This cracking piece of entertainment takes us back to a period when desirable women wore suspenders, pipe-smoking was all the rage – and didn’t cause bad breath and brown teeth – trains were pulled by proper engines and milkmen wore peaked caps.

It leans on the 1935 Hitchcock film rather than Buchan’s original yarn. Instead of that American bloke, it’s a beautiful Germanic female who gets stabbed at the start. She’s not just huskily sexy: she sounds as if she’s on sixty un-tipped continental fags a day. And the title, The 39 Steps, is rendered virtually irrelevant to the plot.

The fun’s on at least four levels: it’s a straightforward thriller; it’s a parody of that genre; it’s a send-up of the thirties; and four actors are struggling and failing to put the thing on – there are supposed to be a hundred and thirty-nine parts. A virtue is made of make-do-and-mend minimal props, and mime and sound effects are uproarious: at one point someone actually plays the part of a swamp; at another an actor has to cope with two parts simultaneously.

It’s more overtly laughter-grabbing and satirical than it was at the same venue two years back.

In two of the best scenes – all boiled shirts and pomposity – we become the audience in a beautifully realised seedy music hall.

Dugald Bruce-Lockhart – a strangely apposite name surely – superb as Richard Hannay, is a tweedy pipe smoker with a manly chin and a pencil moustache and, this time round, a Celtic-sounding accent. In three of the female parts, particularly as love interest Pamela, Natalie Walter is comically sexy. The scene where, handcuffed to the ever-gentlemanly Hannay, she removes her wet stockings is a highlight for men in their sixties.

All the minor caricatures and outrageous stereotypes – commercial travellers, Scotsmen, dastardly foreigners, policemen – are brilliantly done by Dan Starkey (short and bald) and Richard Braine (tall, with hair and a big moustache).

Again directed by Maria Aitken for Tricycle Theatre/West Yorkshire Playhouse, this is enormous fun; it’s outstanding.

Man: Richard Braine.
Richard Hannay: Dugald Bruce Lockart.
Man: Dan Starkey.
Annabella Schmidt/Pamela/Margaret: Natalie Walter.

Director: Maria Aitken.
Designer: Peter McKintosh.
Lighting Designer: Ian Scott.
Sound Design: Mic Pool.

2010-06-17 09:50:48

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