Tag Archives: Alfred Hitchcock

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

REVIEW: Blackmail with the BBC SSO

Presented as a companion piece to The Sound of Hitchcock, the BBC SSO present a rare opportunity to see Alfred Hitchcock’s 1929 silent masterpiece Blackmail with full symphony orchestra accompaniment.

Wielding the baton again is silent movie music specialist Timothy Brock, the music created by contemporary composer Neil Brand specifically for the movie. Brand refuses to confine himself to the musical  style of the era, instead taking the best of the early decades of movie music and creating a beautifully appropriate soundscape to match the action.

Blackmail itself has an interesting history, existing in two versions, filming began originally as a silent movie but it was converted to sound during production. It is one of Britain’s first all-talking pictures, filmed on the first purpose-built sound studio in Europe at Borehamwood. It’s Czech-born leading lady Anny Ondra also a classic example of a silent movie star failing to make the grade in the talkies, her strong accent having to be post-dubbed by actress Joan Barry.

The story … During a date with her Scotland Yard detective boyfriend, Alice White has a fight with her boyfriend, Frank. Catching the eye of an admirer, she ditches Frank and leaves with the mysterious stranger. When they go back to his flat he attempts to rape Alice and she kills him in defence. Frank is tasked with investigating the case and soon realises Alice’s guilt. However, a petty thief with blackmail on his mind complicates matters.

What the movie does show is a fascinating glimpse of a film that bridged the gap between the overblown histrionics of the silent era and the more subtle talkies to come. Whilst there are exaggerated eye roles and meaningful glances a-plenty from our heroine, it is a stylistic hybrid which also demonstrates the burgeoning genius of Hitchcock and provides a tantalising glimpse of what was to come, indeed many of Hitchcock’s most famous trademarks are here (including the infamous cameo appearance): the beautiful blonde in peril, and a famous landmark used in the movie’s finale (here it’s a chase across the dome of the British Museum).

Surprisingly, the movie remains remarkably watchable, replete as it is with astonishingly sophisticated scene cutting and special effects for its era, and it is all enhanced wonderfully by the BBC SSO, there’s not much can beat the sound of an 80 piece plus orchestra in full flight.

A thoroughly entertaining evening, hopefully next season’s programme will offer more of the same.