Review: The 39 Steps – from Hitchcock to hilarity

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Tonight we were lucky enough to go along to the opening night of The 39 Steps at The Lowry, and what a fun-packed frolic it was! Throughout the whole show, punctuated by the plummy tones of the central character, Richard Hannay, and some wonderful vintage outfits, we were transported back in time and the overriding thought that came to my mind was that we had all been invited to be part of a very boisterous “Jolly Jape”. Even though I am certainly no film buff, I knew enough to spot many of the references to Hitchcock films, including a number of film titles/nods and even a fun little silhouette ‘cameo’.

The production has a cast of just four very talented comedic actors, playing all the parts, and a breath-taking range of clever (and sometimes downright mundane) props to enhance the basic set. Doors, in particular, play a very important part in the piece and the whole feel really harked back to the good old ‘Brian Rix’ farces that I remember so well. The lighting was used to tremendous effect to set the scenes, from Richard’s London flat to the Scottish Highlands and even the Forth Road Bridge (if you are affected, be aware that there are some strobe scenes!)

Although I am pretty sure I must have watched the film at some point, I can only recall vague images from it so I went along with no preconceptions. To be absolutely honest, I found the first 10/15 minutes a little slow to get into and, if I have a criticism, sometimes the dialogue was a bit difficult to pick up, especially from Arabella. The problem seemed to disappear as the story unfolded, however, so I think it was maybe more about tuning in to the accent.

This was brilliant, old-school physical theatre, with some wonderful slapstick elements and plenty of charming touches: the tiny steam train, woozy romantic interludes, a silhouette puppet chase sequence, the clever transitions from character to character and the way clothes and hats rippled in the breeze from the train and doors (with just a little help from the cast…

The two actors who played the majority of the parts (Andrew Hodges and Rob Witcomb) were hilarious, swapping gender, costumes and accents with consummate ease. It was quite amazing how they managed to keep up with the pace, and it was sometimes hard to tell if props/costumes/effects did actually get mixed or whether it was just included for comedy effect, but either way the timing was perfect and it certainly made us all laugh out loud.

Basically, this is a brilliant night out. It is great fun: witty and very cleverly staged and acted, and I certainly have no intention of spoiling the lovely, unexpected ending.

Don’t miss the chance to catch this while you can – book now!

Carole Ogden, reviewing for Bolton Live.

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