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.