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Progress Theatre - The 39 Steps

17th to 26th November 2011.

Review from RemoteGoat.

An entire movie on stage?

John Buchan and Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps is a hilarious adaptation by Patrick Barlow of Buchan's intriguing mystery and Hitchcock's classic 1935 film. It shares the same characters but as befits Barlow's methods the drama employs only four actors. It's all very comic and at times leans towards Monty Python but still manages to show a saintly reverence towards both filmmaker and author.

Owen Goode's dapper gent Richard Hannay is at the centre of the action, a man bored with London life who yearns for an escape from his 'dull little rented flat' in Portland Place.

However, it doesn't take long for pipe smoking Hannay to find himself in a murky world of murder, spies, car chases, and steam trains and, I'd say, rather fetching hats. All it takes is a chance encounter at 'A Cockney Music Hall' with Laura Sherman's shady femme fatale Annabella Schmid that leads to an accusation of murder and the key plot device - what exactly are the 39 Steps?

It cannot be an easy task for the actors. Laura Sherman has only three parts, yet Christopher Hoult and Craig Daniels, in the course of the evening, take on over a hundred roles between them. Furthermore, this is against a minimal backdrop of twelve plus locations that takes in everything from 'The Forth Bridge' to 'The Scottish Moors'. Anyone familiar with the original works will swiftly recognise these striking places and their dramatic significance to the narrative.

With quick-fire costume changes, highly effective nifty props and sets, this ripping yarn rattles along at a cracking pace. One has to marvel at the out and out energetic performances of all four leads. Especially notable is the comic timing of Clown 1 (Hoult) and Clown 2 (Daniels) that takes it beyond farce and into a higher realm of dramatic comedy. One has to admit though that you cannot go wrong with this play, as it is so lovingly crafted and respectful to its outstanding source material - a gripping thriller of a bygone age. I'm not usually one for superlatives but in this case, I have to admit defeat and state - an excellent play and a great production.


Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Step this way

The Thirty-Nine Steps, at Progress Theatre, Reading, from Thursday, November 17 to Saturday, November 26

Esteemed gentlefolk of Newbury and beyond, I would encourage, nay urge you, to avail yourselves of the opportunity to witness a most exhilarating, rip-roaring piece of dramatic entertainment at the Progress Theatre in Reading.

I write of the current production of The Thirty-Nine Steps, adapted by Mr Patrick Barlow, from the film directed by Mr Alfred Hitchcock, based upon the novel by Mr John Buchan and starring Mr Owen Goode as the suave if reluctant hero Richard Hannay. Miss Laura Sherman as Annabella, Pamela and Margaret, and Messrs Christopher Hoult and Craig Daniels as everyone else.

The action is fast and furious, costume changes slick and effective and the comic touches will leave you breathless with laughter. (Ladies are advised to come prepared with a handkerchief for discrete wiping away of tears of mirth.) Witness the thrill of the chase as Hannay seeks to prove his innocence while uncovering a devious foreign spy, gasp as our hero falls from the bridge and cheer at his ultimate exoneration.

Enough of that. Suffice it to say that the directors Dan Clarke and Steph Weller have achieved a well-nigh perfect production. The stage is transformed with a proscenium arch from whose columns doors open, to reveal among other things seats at the performances of Mr Memory and pilots flying bi-planes North by North-West to shoot down our hero, recently escaped through a Rear Window.

And there are wonderful performances from all the cast. Mr Goode tempers his stiff upper lip with hints of bewilderment, resignation, determination and patriotism, while Miss Sherman moves effortlessly and convincingly from one character to another, portraying a German spy, a down-trodden Scottish crofter's wife and a jolly society gel.

Messrs Hoult and Daniels display sensational physicality as they switch hats, coats and accents with each characterisation. Hoult's extraordinary portrayal of various head-scarved women ranges from Monty Python to League of Gentlemen, all with the absurd touch of sock suspenders. Their comic timing is masterful and breathtaking. It is brilliant. Just watch out for the Birds in the foyer.