The 39 Steps…British and Brilliant!

Last night I popped down to The Criterion in Piccadilly Circus to see The 39 Steps. I read the book several years ago and then saw the Hitchcock film (with its amended ending) so I was looking forward to seeing how this tale of murder and mystery translated not only on to the stage but also into a comedy as well.

The play follows the Hitchcock movie plot pretty faithfully and there’s a clever mix of effects, movement and acting which allows for the transition of each stage of Richard Hannay’s thrilling and fast-moving tale.

The show is billed as 4 actors playing 130 characters over 100 minutes. The three female roles – the predatory Annabella Schmidt, the innocent Margaret and the ‘do-right’ Pamela – are played by Catherine Bailey.

Catherine Bailey plays Pamela, love interest for the protagonist, Richard Hannay

These are necessary roles in the story and Catherine does a great job with all of them. But this play, by its very nature, throws its male characters into the limelight.

Andrew Alexander plays Hannay with manic, John Cleese-ian fervour moving from privileged languor to adolescent awkwardness to splendidly British stoicism as Hannay evades the law, the criminal and any costume changes. 

The police chase through the train and across the roof achieves just the right mix of panicked flight  

That leaves 126 characters. And these are brought to life by Stephen Critchlow and Ian Hughes providing moment after moment of comic ingenuity…

An early moment of hilarity from Stephen Critchlow and Ian Hughes

So it is indeed 4 actors playing 130 characters over 100 minutes.

It is also inordinately clever and brilliantly funny. If you are in London and fancy anything from a giggle to a guffaw, make sure you catch this.

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