Review: ‘The 39 Steps’

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Hild Bede Theatre starts the academic year off strongly with this entertaining take on Hitchcock’s classic. ‘The 39 Steps’ follows the adventures of Richard Hannay, a Canadian gentleman who finds himself entangled in a wild goose chase in a desperate attempt to break a spy ring. Whilst the subject matter is dark in nature, HBT’s production cleverly parodies the original, resulting in a light-hearted and comical amusement which is highly enjoyable.

With a cast of just 4, it is evident that there is an ambitious number of character changes, yet this is executed well, with the use of props and various accents adding to the illusion upheld by the action. The clowns especially carry the character changes out well, with the use of quick costume changes and various voices; a major example being the use of hat changes in the train scene. Simplistic in set design, the play relies heavily on the delivery of the cast, who fail to disappoint. Energy levels were high throughout the 2-hour play, and it is evident that the cast captivate the attention of the audience, with audience participation being a nice comical touch.

The use of signs to indicate changes in setting is appreciated, as well as playfully indicating the ‘sexual tension’. The scene setting itself is sparse, and the same props are cleverly used in various contexts. I particularly like the use of the chairs and various other props in scenes involving trains, cars and planes. Movement of the actors is also important in creating a convincing scene, and the spatial use of Caedmon Hall allows for the audience to feel fully immersed in the action.

Of notable mention is Frank Dudley, who convincingly plays the lead Hannay. Throughout the play, Hannay is played with exaggerated gestures and comical charm, which establishes the humorous nature of the play. I found the running scenes to be particularly effective, with the frequent stopping and amusing comments providing some comical relief. Moreover, the two clowns – played by Dani Frankal and Alice Liddle – are very entertaining in their overly animated nature and fast paced changes in character.

In addition to this, Alesya Matyukhina’s effortless portrayal of the various female characters serves as a nice contrast to the wacky tone of the play. Compared to the comedy of the other characters, Matyukhina’s characters are serious in nature, and so balance out the action, with the changing accents being especially convincing. The differences between Hannay and the female characters are striking, with their interactions being a prime driver of plot.

Whilst the use of audio effects adds to the overall performance of the play, there are certain moments when it drowns out the dialogue of the characters, making some scenes less clear. Yet, for the most part the use of sound is spot on and helps bring together the action. Similarly, the dimming of the lights between scene changes is useful in maintaining the smooth transitions.

Overall, this is a highly entertaining production from HBT, and serves as an impressive debut for several of the cast members. Although in certain areas the production feels rushed, this can only be expected from the nature of the play and considering the small number of cast it maintains a fast-paced and – for the most part – clear narrative. Funny in nature, some slight technical mishaps do not distract from the overall quality of the play, which, considering the time scale in which it was produced, is very impressive.

Image by HBT

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