The 39 Steps
Criterion Theatre, London
Wednesday 28th March 2012
A classic novel, a legendary Hitchcock film; with such a pedigree it may not be surprising that The 39 Steps has transferred to the London stage. Patrick Barlow's adaptation however, rather than recreating the previously explored depths of suspense and mystery, lovingly mocks the tale and the theatre's limitations in trying to recreate the expeditious drama required.
Hugely energetic, and consistently humorous, the four actors (Andrew Alexander, Catherine Bailey, Stephen Critchlow and Ian Hughes) between them create a raft of different characters, often switching between them via just a change of hat. Armed with furniture on wheels and strategically placed ladders, they speedily create each distinct scene, supported more than a little by well-timed sound effects and lighting changes.
This frenzy of comedy sketches overpower the story somewhat, so although the jokes are well setup and executed, and are rewarded by appreciative laughter among the audience, the progression of the plot is neglected. Perhaps this isn't the point, but one is left feeling as though having attended a sketch show rather than a play.
That aside however, the show is throughly entertaining, excitingly fast-paced, and cleverly staged to make the most of every comic opportunity, all performed by a very hard-working group of talented actors. A fun, and funny, evening.