The 39 Steps
The 39 Steps. First a novel, then a film, then a West End play, and finally landing here in our own little town, in our little theatre. A parody of the film-noir genre, complete with a cast of four playing well over 100 characters, directed in a short space of time. It probably shouldn’t have worked. However, to my delight, for the most part it did.
Patrick Barlow’s script is such that it is hard to deviate from the original production in terms of staging, and the direction – under Madeline Inskeep – was a faithful reproduction of the original, complete with people climbing through window frames, running along train roofs, and climbing over sheep stiles, all in the Barron. The repeated references to films of the genre, shouting ‘North-by-Northwest’, whilst looking towards the audience, ensured that from the opening scenes the audience was well-aware that this was a parody of, let’s be frank, some of the silliest films and conventions. The tone of a fast-paced, high-energy show was set from the off with Tom Giles (playing Richard Hannay, the eligible bachelor with ‘piercing blue eyes’) opening with a strong monologue.
Inskeep made the decision to double cast the leads of the play, meaning this can only be a review of half of the final piece: on the night I saw it, Tom Giles and Hannah Raymond-Cox stepped into the lead roles. In spite of a few accent slippages, Raymond-Cox handled playing three archetypal women – generic Eastern European spy; scared Scottish housewife; blonde bombshell – with aplomb. However, it was the central performance, of Giles, that was extraordinary. Here was a character that had been carefully considered: every movement, tick, and word captured the stereotypical 1930s posh man. The energy Giles managed to maintain over the course of the play was impressive; the laughs he garnered proof of the fact he had the audience in the palm of his hand.
The other hundred-odd characters were played by a clowning trio, played generally well by Becca Schwarz, Adam Spencer, and Scott Wilson. Each clown had their own characters that they excelled at, notably Spencer playing the wife of a hotel owner, and coped well with a number of accents and different physical demands. However, a number of the clowns’ lines were lost as a result of poor enunciation, a real shame as I was dying to hear those lost lines. The clowns should, however, be praised for maintaining great levels of energy, and getting into tens of different costumes over the course of the play.
In spite of strong central performances, the production itself felt haphazardly put together in places. The trouble with farce is that it has to be tightly constructed: the comedy in the play itself is enough without the ad-libbing, props falling apart, and corpsing. Whilst the cast did manage to get themselves out of several sticky situations (and did so admirably), it lent to an overall sense that the play was slightly under-rehearsed. I wondered, had the play not been double-cast, if more would have been made of the piece, and if the multiple rough edges could have been smoothed.
Whilst the play did, perhaps, need anotherweek to get it more polished, the sheer joy experienced by the audience (and, seemingly, the cast alike) was enough to highly recommend the piece. A fabulous script, combined with a brilliant central performance, and a strong supporting cast meant that Inskeep managed to bring a fun, light-hearted show to the Barron –just what everyone wants at the end of Week Six.
Images courtesy of Katie Brennan.