The 39 Steps
Adapted by Patrick Barlow
From the novel by John Buchan
From the movie by Alfred Hitchcock
Directed by Robert More
Performed by Jonathan Ellul, Cara Hunter, David Rosser, Mark Weatherley
Victoria Playhouse Petrolia
June 8 to 26, 2010
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
More Laughs than Mystery in This Thriller
Take an old Alfred Hitchcock murder mystery/spy thriller movie, mix in some British farce and add a dash of Monty Python. This unlikely recipe creates the successful comedy The 39 Steps now playing at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia.
It has every element of the old movie: spies, a secret formula, and of course, murder. But somehow, when presented by a cast, all with excellent comedic timing, it all becomes hilariously funny. Even those of us too young to have ever seen the 1930s movie can follow the path the script took from thriller to comedy.
The acting is very clever. David Rosser is excellent as Richard Hannay, the main character who we see throughout the show. He starts by telling us how bored he is, so he goes to the theatre, where Mr. Memory, a man with a remarkable ability to recall details is performing. A woman comes back to Hannay’s apartment, where she claims to be a spy and is stabbed in the back. Suddenly Hannay is thrust into a spy chase to prove he didn’t kill the woman.
All the other characters he encounters as he travels from England to Scotland and back again are played by just three actors. Cara Hunter plays the female roles – a spy, a Scottish farmer’s wife, and Pamela. Mark Weatherley and Jonathan Ellul are listed in the playbill as Clowns – and they are hilarious as they play too many roles to count. And oh yes, one of them has a female role, too.
The actors create humour when they set up the props and make various sound effects. For example, they make whistling wind noises and flap their coats accordingly if they are outside in a strong wind. After a while, you forget it’s the cast doing all the work!
There is also a ridiculously funny scene that is presented behind a lit sheet so the audience only sees silhouettes. A small figure is running through the moors, while airplanes on sticks track him. Even Alfred Hitchcock’s signature profile shows up.
Credit goes to Director Robert More for assembling the cast and building the humour in this show. It’s delightfully different than usual farces and the Monty Python-esque scenes make it laugh-out-loud funny.
The 39 Steps continues with eight shows a week at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until June 26. Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or 519-882-1221 for tickets.