REVIEW: The 39 Steps – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Patrick Barlow’s Olivier and Tony Award-winning take on John Buchan’s classic tale of derring-do, The 39 Steps, has been doing the rounds in its current form since 2006.

Based the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film version, our hero Richard Hannay flees to Scotland after the glamorous spy he’s just met is murdered in his London flat. With stiff upper lip, starched collar, the latest Harris Tweed suit and a dashing Robert Donat style pencil moustache, and the fetching femme fatale’s last words ringing in his ears, he heads off to catch a German espionage ring, clear his name, oh, and send a few female hearts a-quivering on the way.

This high-energy Boys Own yarn retains much of the charm and wit it possessed when it first appeared a decade ago and much of the success of the piece lies in the originality of its design and staging. The cast of four change clothes, wigs and accents in the blink of an eye, suitcases and trunks become train carriages and ladders become the soaring Forth Rail Bridge. We are transported over hill, bog and glen and from farmhouse to the London Palladium with shadow puppets or the swish of a (shower) curtain. There’s an added thrill too for Hitchcock fans who can spend the night spotting the references to the director’s other works (there’s even an appearance from the man himself) and while many productions have tried to replicate the witty staging and direction, the original remains the best.

As our hero Hannay, Richard Ede has exemplary comic timing as do Andrew Hodges and Rob Witcomb, who garner the lion’s share of the laughs as an astonishing array of both male and female characters. Less successful is the lone female in the cast Olivia Greene, despite looking the part her appalling diction and projection render almost every line lost, particularly as the German Annabella. That said, the talent of the rest of the cast more than makes up for her shortcomings.

The 39 Steps proves that a thrilling tale, no matter it’s age, will always entertain. If it’s a good giggle you’re after, then this fast-paced spy-spoof is still a sure-fire winner.

Runs until Saturday 21 May 2016 | Image: Dan Tsantilis

This review was originally written for and published by The Reviews Hub