The 39 Steps: Review

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What are the 39 steps? This is the question that is on the lips of every audience member from the get-go.

The story follows one man’s quick-paced journey from London to Scotland and back where hilarity ensues throughout.

Isaac Stanmore as Richard Hannay in The 39 Steps at New Vic Theatre Photo by Andrew Billington

The New Vic’s performance of The 39 Steps was a huge triumph, it kept me laughing from start to finish with its melodrama and slapstick-eqsue comedy.

The 39 Steps was first published in 1915 as a serial story in a magazine, as a novel, as a radio play and it was even made into a film more than once, with Alfred Hitchcock directing the most famous of all, the 1935 version.

The best part of the production was the cast, there were only four cast members who play over 120 characters in the thrilling comedy based on John Buchan’s famous spy novel.

Michael Hugo and Gareth Cassidy did fantastic jobs as the clowns switching their character every other minute and embracing anything that comes with that, including the odd hilarious hiccup.

Left to right – Michael Hugo and Gareth Cassidy as performers at the London Palladium in The 39 Steps at New Vic Theatre Photo by Andrew Billington

Rebecca Brewer gave a wonderful performance as Annabella Schmidt, Pamela and Margaret. It was hard to tell that all three women were, in fact, the same actor which is extremely hard to achieve.

Isaac Stanmore as Richard Hannay and Rebecca Brewer as Pamela in The 39 Steps at New Vic Theatre Photo by Andrew Billington

Isaac Stanmore played the all-round British gent that is Richard Hannay with a fantastic gusto while the audience watches the web of Hannay’s life become more and more complicated as the play goes on.

Isaac Stanmore as Richard Hannay in The 39 Steps at New Vic Theatre Photo by Andrew Billington

Theresa Heskins, Director of The 39 Steps at the New Vic, said: “As I thought about making our production, it struck me that the journey of the actors through this play about espionage and code-breaking seemed a bit like that Enigma machine I’d seen in Berlin.

“As many permutations as there are costume items in the quick-change bay and voices in the actor’s arsenal.

“Part of the fun is seeing how he has to race to keep up with the turning rotors, so that before long even the actor himself has no idea who he is.”

Daniella Beattie, Resident Lighting and Projection Designer and Alex Day, Sound Designer, had their work cut out for them as most of the production relied on sound and light but they did a perfect job.

Left to right – Gareth Cassidy and Michael Hugo as The Spies in The 39 Steps at New Vic Theatre Photo by Andrew Billington

Day said: “It was agreed that the sound and music should reflect the pre-war setting of the play, being simultaneously historically accurate and larger than life when required.

“We also wanted to take inspiration from the advancements in technology, particularly espionage, that were occurring in the early 20th century.”

I would recommend going to see Patrick Barlow’s adaptation of The 39 Steps to anyone who fancies a thrilling story with side-splitting humour.

The 39 Steps is at the New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme from Friday 8 March 2019 – Saturday 30 March 2019. For more details call 01782 717962 or visit newvictheatre.org.uk.

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