The 39 Steps – Gaiety Theatre – Review

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The 39 Steps – Gaiety Theatre – 29 March 2016 – 2 April 2016

Richard Hannay is a young, frivolous man who visits a theatre to watch Mr. Memory; a stage show about a man with an amazing ability to recall trivial information. A shot is fired in the theatre and in the ensuing panic Richard meets a woman called Annabella Smith. She seems distraught and convinces Richard to take her back to his apartment. She takes the bedroom while Richard sleeps on the sofa. In the middle of the night, she enters the sitting room and mutters a few words to Richard before falling dead in his arms with a knife plunged in her back. And so our hero Richard is trapped in this world of spies and betrayal.


The 39 Steps is a novel by John Buchan written in 1915 and later converted into a film in 1935. It was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, who was a mere 36 years old at the time. The film is a classic of its type and showed Hitchcock’s potential as a director. This production does not attempt to recreate the film, but instead pumps it with helium to create a mad cap comedy based on the essential facts, but moving it somewhere else entirely.

This Olivier Award-Winning Comedy is now in its 10th year and is a well oiled machine. The four actors involved play a 130 characters over the evening. Richard Ede plays the main protagonist Richard Hannay and is the only actor to play a single role. Olivia Greene plays a number of love interests and spies. Andrew Hodges and Rob Witcomb play everyone else, a deluge of minor characters including roles as police men, spies, train passengers, hotel owners and anyone else who crosses Richard’s path.

The gags in this play are relatively standard and are not particularly sophisticated. Where the real invention lies is in the staging, with simple elements such as ladders, boxes and chairs used to create a world. It is this ingenuity with everyday objects that turns the production into something unusual. The small cast often play multiple parts in the same scene, pulling on and off hats and coats to instantly change characters. This is a light hearted comedy that uses the limitations of the stage to its advantage and the impressive energy of the cast never let it flag.


Adapted for stage by Patrick Barlow
Directed by Maria Aitken



Categories: Header, Theatre, Theatre Review

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