Arts Club Theatre Company
The 39 Steps adapted by Patrick Barlow From the novel by John Buchan

Dates and Venue 21 October - 21 November 2010, Tuesdays 7:30pm, Wed – Sat 8pm, (Wed, Sat & Sun 2pm matinees) | Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage

Director Dean Paul Gibson Set Design Ted Roberts Costume Design Rebekka Sorensen Lighting Design Marsha Sibthorpe Sound Design Murray Price Stage Manager Rachel Bland

Reviewer Roger Wayne Eberle

The 39 Steps is no Hitchcock and bull drama. Well there may be a bit of bull in it, but it is not of the four-footed variety, I assure you. This play is chock full of amicable humour. Don't expect suspense and bone-chilling mystery. It is a rollicking ride of tickle-your-funny-bone jocularity. The play is not 'without feathers,' because hope never seems as far off as those elusive 39 steps appear to be. All allusions to Woody Allan aside, this play employs a style of humour that is not far removed from his zany irony. It also mines its comedic genius from the same rich vein Monty Python found so strikingly lucrative. With a kind of Vaudeville panache, The 39 Steps takes its audience on a madcap mystery tour from London to Scotland and back again, showing them sight gag after clever sight gag by train, car and a few other creative 'shadowy' forms of transport.

All along the way, scenes are switched up with a kind of manic precision. Props propel the plot as deftly as the characters suddenly change. Man #1 and Man #2, consummately played by David Marr and Shawn Macdonald, exude an almost superhuman kind of protean expertise. Director Dean Paul Gibson displays his customary sharp sense of pacing along with his canny feel for dynamic mise-en-scénes. First you are mildly amused then laughing out loud at the mobility of set pieces that just won't settle down, and later just when you think they've exhausted the comedic potential of this 'prop and roll' strategy, the second act delivers new forms of hilarity by introducing a thorny issue: the prop became mortal and dwelt among us, giving us more than a tiny cleft to ponder. You really must see it to believe it.

Gaggles and gaggles of sight gags quack up the audience just as much as the deliciously basted witty balcony banter between the male lead, Richard Hannay, played by Martin Happer and the sole female Diana Coatsworth. Bored one night at home in London, Hannay takes in some theatre and meets the lovely and mysterious Annabella Schmidt in a balcony to balcony tête-à-tête. After she follows him home to his flat, loose ends unravel faster than a window blind can fly up after its pulled down to unveil a plot that's thicker than a Scottish brogue. In the aftermath of their ill-fated encounter, Hannay manages to stay one step ahead of the law while attempting to track down a reclusive British professor who lives in Scotland and apparently knows the meaning behind the cryptic 39 Steps.

Happer expertly portrays a character who manages to maintain his composure despite feeling increasingly uncomfortable with his sense of the ironies of the predicaments he finds himself having to face. He conveys an irrepressible ebullience and an indomitable energy that seems not to flag. As is the case with all actors in this play, timing and stage presence are commanding. Although Happer does not have to contend with the wide variety of accents and personas that are handled so capably by the other members of this foursome, he shows by his expressive and flexible demeanour that he is every bit as versatile as each of the others.

Nowhere is this more fully expressed than when the fugitive Richard Hannay finds himself in the unlikely predicament of having to give a political speech after being introduced by a Scottish politician who is so soft-spoken he cannot make himself heard over the crowd. Many among the opening night audience were in hysterics at this buffoonery. Unlike this poor Scotsman, played to ridiculous perfection by Shawn Macdonald, who could not be heard over the raucous laughter of the crowd, The 39 Steps deserves to be both heard and seen by a wide audience for the excellent play that it is.

© 2010 Roger Wayne Eberle