Nick Le Mesurier reviews The 39 Steps, presented by the Bear Pit Theatre Company at the Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford
Four actors. Dozens of parts. An escape from a moving train. A plane crash. A dastardly plot involving espionage, murder, escape and thrills and laughs galore. All on a small stage. How do they do it?
This stage version of The 39 Steps, which follows Hitchcock’s 1935 film version of John Buchan’s novel almost exactly, was first produced on a tiny budget. It went on to run for nine years in the West End and scooped numerous awards. It’s the perfect challenge for a theatre company with a well-deserved reputation for riotous comedy.
Tony Homer is well cast as Richard Hannay. He is a tall, handsome Englishman, somewhat louche and bored with life in the home country. By chance he gets mixed up in a fiendish plot that threatens national security. It all hangs on a mysterious music-hall routine involving Mr Memory, a sexy spy who is murdered in his bed, and a dodgy professor living in the Scottish highlands. Oh, and a pair of raincoated secret agents, a weird couple of hoteliers, farmers, and a milkman. That’s just for starters.
It could have been a disaster, but it’s a comic triumph, due to the old fashioned skills of a great acting, split-second timing, superb stage-craft, and utterly reliable directing. Carol Roache switches from sexy vamp Annabella Schmidt to wifely Pamela to frustrated farmer’s wife Margaret with ease. Natalie Danks-Smith and Roger Ganner are simply breathtaking as the two clowns who play the majority of the parts. To pick a favourite of their roles would be like picking a favourite chocolate from a box: hard to do but very pleasurable.
The first night was sold out, and if you want an evening of amazement and fun you’d better hurry to get a ticket before the run is over.
* The play runs until May 19. Call 01789 403416 to book.