‘The 39 Steps’ is a classic 1915 spy novel by John Buchan that has been adapted by Patrick Barlow into a hilarious comedy. The play won the 'What's On Stage’ Award for Best Comedy 2007. The 2008 Roundabout Broadway production won the 2008 Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience.
Novelist Buchan, who was a lawyer and Unionist MP, was made 1st Baron of Tweedsmuir and then in 1935 became Governor General of Canada, a post he kept until his death in 1940.
This superb joint production between the Koorliny Arts Centre and the London Street Theatre Group is showing at the Koorliny Arts Centre, 60 Sulphur Road, Kwinana. Curtain up at 8.00 pm. the performances are until Saturday 31st March.
The stage lights up and the four players come out and take a bow. This four alone, over the next 120 demanding and arduous minutes, will act the 100 parts and carry out all of the scene shifting. Then, at lightning speed, two of the men setup the 1935 sitting room set of Richard Hannay (Laurence Williams) in his Portland Place flat, just across from the BBC Broadcasting House. The play proper begins.
Hannay has just arrived home from an international working tour and feeling a little down he decides to treat himself to a night out at a West End Music Hall. Taking his seat in a box, he watches the evening’s main act, Mr. Memory (Peter Shaw). Just as the mastermind is requesting questions, a gunshot rings out and panic erupts. A frightened woman seated next to Hannay fired the gun; she is mysterious German, Annabella Schmidt (Natalie Burbage), who asks to go back to Hannay’s flat for protection. She explains how she is a spy and is on the hit list of an unknown Englishman, an assassin based in a Scottish mansion. He is the leader of a group called the ‘39 steps’ and is stealing British military secrets. The traitor has the tip missing from one of his fingers.
Next morning, Hannay finds Annabella stabbed to death in his flat. Hannay flees by train to Scotland in search of the spy. On the train, (a real train traverses the stage!) he finds the police on his trail. In desperation, pretending to be with his girlfriend, he kisses the beautiful occupant of the carriage, Pamela (Natalie Burbage). However, Pamela hands him over to the law. In panic, Hannay daringly jumps from the train onto the Forth Rail Bridge and pursued by the police, escapes.
At a financial cost, he stays the night with a poor crofter (Peter Shaw) and his young wife, who seduces our hero. The jealous crofter calls in the police, but wearing the crofter’s clothes, Hannay flees. Eventually, after trekking the wild moors, he finds the mansion of the dastardly Professor Jordan (Kim Godleman) and his dour wife (Peter Shaw). They are entertaining guests. After a brief conversation, Jordan shoots Hannay who collapses clutching his chest. Could our hero be dead?
Why does everyone want to get to Mr Memory?
This tiny cast and crew of four is how Patrick Barlow envisaged the show being presented. Naturally the demands on the team are huge. The multitude of sets all changed in seconds. There are dozens of costume changes, not just a mere altering of a few trimmings but of total costumes. The stage manager Angela Edwards and her team of dressers (?) were extremely well organised and allowed for instant changes that ensured the chaotic pace.
The cast were amazing, there were numerous accents – many terrible (on purpose). Despite the rapid set and character changes, the cast never seemed out of puff. The dialogue flowed clearly and the characterisation captured perfectly.
The set (Alan Bergin and Sean Read) was inventive, fun and made to be moved efficiently and quickly by one person. The soundscape (Peter Shaw) was extensive and of the highest quality. At times there were sound effects that had to be in sync with the movements of the cast e.g. car doors closing, the timing was impeccable. There were AV effects (Mike Rogers and Brad Tudor) which had silhouetted dancers, chases and plane crashes – coupled with a great deal of humour. The Koorliny Techs handled the lighting effects skilfully, never missing a cue.
The programme (Sue Edge) is beautifully designed and has twelve A5 pages, with a first class layout, on thick glossy card, but at $4 each is possibly pushing the sales limit.
Incidentally the theatre’s air-con was set at about 18, and it was a relief to get into the warmth of the outside temperature of 22.
Talented director Kim Angus has tackled the play in a different fashion to the highly successful Harbour production. The Harbour had a hilarious dry humour style, whereas the London Street Theatre Group had a slightly slapstick approach, with a great deal more movement and madness. Completely different productions, both VERY successful.
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