THE 39 STEPS
adapted by Patrick Barlow from an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon based on the novel by John Buchan and the film by Alfred Hitchcock.
Theatre by the Lake Lakeside CA12 5DJ In rep to 4 November 2015.
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.
TICKETS: 017687 74411.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 31 October.
Seemingly effortless ingenuity throughout, creating hilarity while respecting the story.
Telling epic stories with minimal means has long delighted Patrick Barlow, so he must have seized enthusiastically on Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon’s North Country Theatre four-actor, minimal set adaptation of John Buchan’s spy story, which originally played one-night stands in village halls, creating laughs at the ingenuity of a few ladders suggesting the Forth Rail Bridge, among other things.
Barlow’s strength lies in combining such theatrical jokes with a sense something serious is happening. This is greatly helped because this play is also based on Alfred Hitchcock’s film, released in 1935, 20 years after the novel’s publication. Hitchcock’s use of humour to intensify tension overrides his making nonsense of the title and introducing two glamorous women to sex things up. He still produced a thriller that works on repeated viewings.
What does this leave for director Abigail Anderson and her Keswick cast? However much Barlow and other adapters have set-up or prescribed, it’s the mark of the first-rate director Anderson is repeatedly showing herself to be that the acting quartet by the Lake work so smoothly, controlling mood effortlessly, maintaining due surface seriousness in the midst of the most absurd happenings.
When Patrick Bridgman and Richard Earl’s physically contrasting Clowns, unified by a Clownish intensity that knows neither past nor future, keep changing costume every few lines as they transfer between two characters apiece, half the hilarity is in their apparent unawareness of anything strange being involved.
When Frances Marshall’s Pamela (who might double for the film’s glamorous Madeleine Carroll) and Jonny McPherson’s blithely upper-class Richard Hannay sit handcuffed together as she removes her wet stockings, the enforced physical proximity carries a sexual charge that feeds-back into the hilarity of her attempts at ignoring him and his sudden shock at female proximity.
Marshall also contrasts a brisk female organiser and a radio announcer swooning at descriptions of Hannay, while McPherson maintains a calmly comic tone reminiscent of Robert Donat’s 1935 film Hannay.
Even seen as Hallowe’en ushers in November, these Steps are a splendid reminder of the fine 2015 summer season in a theatre that grows better every year.
Clown 1: Patrick Bridgman.
Clown 2: Richard Earl.
Annabella/Pamela/Margaret: Frances Marshall.
Richard Hannay: Jonny McPherson.
Director: Abigail Anderson.
Designer/Costume: Martin Johns.
Lighting: Nick Beadle.
Sound: Maura Guthrie.
Dialect coach: Charmian Hoare.
Fight director: Peter Macqueen.