The 39 Steps – Lyric Theatre – Review by Cathy Brown
Dates & Times 29 Mar – 16 Apr – Tues – Sat: 7:45pm – Sat & Sun matinee: 2:30pm
Patrick Barlow’s award winning spoof of both John Buchan’s classic novel The 39 Steps and Hitchcock’s famous 1935 film version starring Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll has been a massive hit on the West End in London and is brought to the Lyric Theatre Belfast in a co-production with Bruiser Theatre Company.
This wonderfully funny show follows the adventures of handsome hero Richard Hannay – all stiff upper lip, suave English charm and pencil moustache, as he goes on the run to Scotland following the murder of a glamourous spy in his London flat. Using the techniques of physical theatre, minimal set, quick costume changes and a mere four actors playing over 100 part, The 39 Steps is a Monty Python-esque romp featuring murder, secret agents, double-crossing and beautiful women.
Michael Johnston is impressive as Richard Hannay, channeling that 1930s, pipe smoking hero to a tee. Hannah Brackstone-Browne provides tremendous support as a series of women with whom Hannay comes into contact, her comic skills on particular show as the beautiful and dangerous Annabella Schmidt.
As the double act of clowns, Michael Condron and Liam Jeavons steal the show playing over one hundred roles between them. These include a cleaning lady, underwear salesmen, a milkman, a secret agent, a train conductor, theatre performers, husband and wife hotel owners, a professor’s wife, a wide variety of law enforcement officers and at one point, a swampy bog. In one scene, Liam Jeavons plays three characters at once using only a nifty hat swap. The quick-changes become a running joke, and it is all done with such a lightness of touch that the missed cues and knowing asides seem amusingly real rather than scripted. With the fourth wall broken, the audience become willing participants, quite literally in the case of the dramatic finale set in the London Palladium and the deliberate silliness is infectious.
The 39 Steps is perfectly suited to Bruiser’s pared down aesthetic. The use of props, set, lighting and sound combine to create living rooms, train carriages and hotels and if any company can convince you that three ladders are the Forth Bridge, this is the one to do it.
Lisa May directs with panache, including nods to other Hitchcock movies, and the production gleefully embraces the sublime and the ridiculous with a knowing wink, intoxicating energy and a lot of laughs. The frenetic pace can at times feel overwhelming and the central serious message about personal freedom gets slightly lost in the mayhem, but it is no loss to this playful production which is hilarious and delights in its own ludicrous and breath-taking ability to pull off such a fantastic spectacle with wit and style.
Bruiser Theatre Company and the Lyric Theatre have another hit on their hands!
Directed by Lisa May
Starring Hannah Brackstone-Brown, Michael Condron, Michael Johnston & Liam Jeavons.
Musical Direction and Original Music by Matthew Reeve