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
Following the quite frankly unbelievable adventures of that most classic of English heroes, Richard Hannay, The 39 Steps is an hysterical romp based on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film adaptation of John Buchan’s classic thriller.
This irreverent show has its tongue placed firmly in its cheek, revelling in those particular 1930’s stereotypes: we have a dashing hero, some devilish baddies and a mysterious femme fatale. With pencil moustache firmly glued on and stiff upper lip in place, our hero Hannay displays derring-do and demonstrates daring deeds to defeat the dastardly baddies throughout this fabulous show.
Featuring a cast of four playing 139 roles in a mere 100 minutes, the breath-taking inventiveness never fails to entertain, and the break-neck speed ensures that there’s no moment where the interest falters. This is clever, warm, irreverant, laugh-out-loud funny and above all utterly entertaining.
Scottish actress Sabrina Carter is currently travelling the globe on the international tour of the smash hit One Man Two Guv’nors. Glasgow Theatre Blog managed to catch up with Sabrina from Sydney to find out about her journey from Scotland to the international stage.
Can we go back to your beginnings – tell us about your background and what first sparked your interest in theatre?
I came to theatre quite late. It all started properly when I was 16 and my friend wanted someone to go with her to an audition for a show called Once on this Island for Durham Youth Music Theatre. I went along reluctantly, and ended up getting the lead part of Timoune. After that I played many roles including Mary Magdelene in Jesus Christ Superstar, Dorothy in the Wizard of OZ and Florence in Chess. After this I started to listen to more and more shows and found a great love of theatre.
When did you decide to seriously pursue a theatrical career?
I was about 17 and was looking at university courses to study psychology, and literally two days before I was due to hand in my UCAS forms I decided to change it to study acting at a university. I knew I wanted to do a 3 year course with dissertation at the end, so I applied to many any decided upon Northumbria University at Newcastle.
Sabrina with Marti Pellow in Jekyll andHyde
You’ve recently been appearing in One Man Two Guv’nors: what is it like being involved in such a universally lauded production?
It’s fantastic! What an honour to be part of a piece that has such acclaim and lucky to be working for one of the best theatre companies in the world, The National Theatre is something that I’ve dreamed of all my life.
You’ve had a diverse range of roles in your career, which is the role you are most proud of?
That’s a hard question as I try not to take jobs or audition for shows that I’m not going to learn from. I think I’m most proud of The 39 Steps. Most of work up until this point in London had been musicals so to make the leap to plays can be very difficult. I managed it and feel so proud of the people I worked with but more importantly to get to play Pamela, Margaret, and Annabella , three very different roles.
You have played the coveted role of Elphaba in Wicked; tell us about your experience in the show.
Elphaba is undoubtedly one of the hardest female roles to play, not just the level of singing required but the roller coaster of emotions she goes through is massive! I still hold a massive place in my heart for her and of course my ensemble role of Pfanee. I made some amazing friends on that show and worked with some of the best creatives in the world.
Sabrina as Elphaba
My 1st performance of ‘Elphie’ was mid-show on a Saturday matinee. Alexia was literally being sick in the wings, which I was completely unaware of at the time, and I was doing the ‘Oz Dust ballroom’. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the stage management team stood side of stage, all looking at me and talking to each other. At the end of the dance I ran off to change when I was stopped, whilst the stage manager was chatting into her headset . Then it was like GO, GO, GO!!! A team of about four people hurried me downstairs to the wardrobe village ( undressing me as I was running) . I had sound teams changing my microphones, people changing my tights , people painting me green , it was manic! All the while I was trying to make sure my voice was ready for the marathon ahead. Approximately 8 minutes later I was dressed, micked and stood up stage right to enter with Dianne for ‘Emerald City’ … Then came the dreaded but thrilling ‘Defying Gravity’ …One of the most special and defining moments of my life. The highlight of the whole show was sharing it with the stunning Dianne Pilkington.
Jennifer Tierney, Sabrina Carter as Pfanee and Dianne Pilkington as Glinda
What advice would you give to someone sitting back at home in Scotland considering training as an actor?
If you need to ask yourself if it’s the right profession, Then it’s not the right business for you! DO IT! Train well, and immerse yourself into every piece of theatre/performance you can. I trained at the Royal Conservatoire previously known as RSAMD. The skills I learned were invaluable.
Sabrina as Nancy in Cameron Mackintosh’s production of Oliver!
What’s the best advice that you have received?
“Don’t forget people on the way up, as you’ll see them on the way down”
Tell us what you have been up to recently and what you’ve got planned for 2013 and beyond.
As I write this I’m in Sydney working on the international leg of One Man, Two Guv’nors, this finishes end of June , then who knows were the wind will take me . I do miss singing so maybe a wee return to musicals – basically whoever will have me!
Jeckyll and Hyde
A few quick questions…
What’s your favourite play/musical of all time?
Musical – Evita and Wicked (sorry that’s cringe!)
Play – Blithe Spirit
Who most inspires you?
Hard working non stagey actors
Your dream role?
It depends, in a musical – Eva Peron. I’ve just read Magdelena Alberto will be playing opposite my Mr Jekyll, Marti Pellow. She is fabulous, so I’ll look forward to seeing her in the role.