The 39 Steps is something of legend, especially when talking about Hitchcock’s adaptation in all of its Film Noir glory. You only have to say ‘steps’ or ‘39’ to people of that generation and they return with noises rather than comments – or wild head nods that confirm they’ve loved it for longer than you have.
The spy thriller tells the tale of Richard Hannay who finds himself caught in intense adventure, battling against an organisation of spies, named ‘The 39 Steps’.
There’s been many reinventions of this classic – originally beginning as one of John Buchan’s best pieces of work and then re-surfacing as a film created by Hitchcock. It seems it was only a matter of time before Hannay took to the stage.
As legendary as the tale is, it doesn’t transfer to the stage as brilliantly as it does in film - and not for the reasons you’d imagine.
‘It was a comedy’ – I whispered to a taxi driver the next day. ‘A comedy?’ he replied with some sort of dramatic gesture which meant his hands left the steering wheel. As soon as my safety was re-established I continued to tell him details of the performance.
Translating film to stage isn’t always the easiest but we’ve witnessed brilliant versions of film adaptations in the form of The Lion King, The Railway Children and Billy Elliot.
This version sees The 39 Steps translated into some kind of flamboyant pantomime. Be grateful they didn’t get their hands on The Birds – pretty sure if it’s anything like this, it would be a case of Sesame Street’s Big Bird chasing Melanie Daniels around in some sort of Benny Hill style escapade.
As disappointing as this may be, the actors prove their worth with their energetic performances and brilliant choreographic interpretation.
Four actors played all of the roles of the full cast and this worked really well. That is if we’re focusing on this production only, and not comparing it to adaptations that came before.
Richard Ede plays Hannay which proves a perfect fit – he plays the fetching target well. Olivia Greene plays the heroine as well as two additional female characters and is brilliant in all roles. The two who truly stole the piece though were Rob Witcomb and Andrew Hodges as they flipped from character to character with ease, making the most of the comedic element of the exchange.
The adaptation might not be the best if you’re expecting a remake of the film. If you’ve not seen the original and plan to make the trip to see the play, I would suggest avoiding the film and making the most of what you see on stage. The actors are brilliant and make the trip to the theatre worthwhile.