The 39 Steps

John Buchan, adapted by Patrick Barlow
Edward Snape for Fiery Angel Ltd and Tricycle London Productions Ltd in association with the West Yorkshire Playhouse
Royal Theatre, Northampton, and touring
(2008)

Production photo

Probably one of the best examples of physical theatre around at the moment is the show The 39 Steps, based on John Buchan's novel of the same name. The show played recently at the Northampton Royal and Derngate and continues to play at the Criterion Theatre in London as well as touring regional theatres.

Four extremely talented actors career around the stage, taking on over one hundred roles between them; this is multi-role playing in its finest, most extravagant form. The changes are fluid and expertly executed.

Perhaps the influence of Jacques Lecoq training, via movement director Toby Sedgwick, was the master stroke with this production. The use of physicality and movement, integrated in wonderful simplicity to create character or setting was a joy to watch.

To complement this, though, was an equally clever direction from Maria Aitken. She managed to convey the story with such ease that we barely noticed the two hours slip away. Such was the brilliance of this production, that as a spectator, you wanted more. Each imaginative trick was followed by another and there was a feeling of expectation as we waited for each new fresh idea.

It is hard to find fault. The adaptation of the original story by Patrick Barlow worked well, adding a comic twist which was more than brought to life by the performers. An excellent cast of four very talented performers were so committed to their roles that they never seemed to put a foot wrong. Their portrayal of the train escape especially is worth seeing - again, a fine example of actors with absolute control over their physicality.

Other plus points with the show included the functional and clever design by Peter McKintosh. The set moved around simply to meet the needs of the multiple scene changes and made for a slick performance. There were some excellent comic moments with the design - shadow puppetry was used to full effect and showed that this version of The 39 Steps wasn't taking itself too seriously.

So if have seen this, spread the word - and if you haven't, see it. A clever, funny and enjoyable show that makes for a fantastic night out, regardless of whether you are a Hitchcock fan or not.

Peter Lathan reviewed this production at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and Sheila Connor saw it at Guildford's Yvonne Anaud Theatre

Reviewer: John Johnson