Reviewed by Richard Lane
This marvelous, zany production by the Adelaide Rep of the multi-award winning play The 39 Steps is taken from the 1915 novel by John Buchan and the 1935 film by Alfred Hitchcock. The adaptation by Patrick Barlow is based on an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon.
Barlow’s adaptation requires four actors to play one hundred and thirty roles. Sarah Agius, Sean Flierl, Samuel Rogers and Tom Bayford under the brilliant direction of Esther Lamb, play them with a superb sense of farcical, Python-esque almost Commedia del arte style.
Briefly, the action runs thus. Bored upper-crust chappie Richard Hannay, stumbles on a plot which involves him in suspicion of the murder of Annabella Schmidt a spy being chased by assassins who want to kill her to stop her spilling the beans about secret information she has acquired. She is stabbed to death in Hannay’s flat and his life is now in a headlong chase as he tries to prove he “never dunnit.” Following information that Ms Schmidt gave Hannay, the conspiracy concerns a man with the top joint of his finger missing. He is the head of a spy ring organisation known as “The 39 Steps.”
This secret group will stop at nothing so they chase Hannay to Scotland where by this time he is handcuffed to the beautiful Pamela and after many chaotic scrapes, exciting near misses, a frenetic trip on the Flying Scotsman rail express, a plane crash and a fall by Hannay from the Forth Bridge, Hannay and Pamela discover the nature of the conspiracy and finally break up the spy ring. And Hannay gets the girl.
The complex sound pack by Hugh Hunkin works a treat, the “Flying Scotsman” being particularly effective. Once again Laraine Wheeler has produced a multi–layered lighting plot which highlights every scene of suspense where required and every comic scene the same.
Lamb has stamped her authority, her understanding of the farce genre and her overall stage savvy on this, her debut production with the Rep. It is clearly understood that the buffoonery which her two stage clowns Bayford (Clown 1) and Flierl (Clown 2) do throughout, is standard practice in all versions of this play. Much like a Cameron MacIntosh play produced anywhere in the world. That said, Bayford and Flierl do it as cleverly and with such exquisite timing as any seen. The hilarious “sorry” scene in the train is a masterful example of their work. These clever young actors are handled with great discipline by Lamb, as are the other two Agius (in three roles) and Rogers as Hannay. Never does the stage business or the action go over the top. Agius plays her three roles with skill, mystery and charm, whilst Rogers is a very debonair and dashing Hannay. The ensemble work is first-rate.
The 39 Steps is a fine piece of quasi comic theatre and a tour de force for the cast, crew and the Adelaide Repertory Theatre