John Buchan’s novel The 39 Steps was first published in 1915. With the storyline being so very successful there have now been three films made broadly following the same storyline.
The Criterion Theatre has been home to Patrick Barlow’s adaptation for the stage since September 2006.
The story features Richard Hannay, a young man innocently becoming involved in the dark underworld of spies. Hannay flees up to Scotland for his own safety and to find out exactly what he has become embroiled in – and what indeed are The 39 Steps.
What makes the The 39 Steps a really different theatrical experience is that Hannay’s adventure is performed by only four actors.
With the leading man remaining as himself throughout, the other three actors have the exhausting task of taking on 139 different characters.
Maria Aitken’s ingenious direction incorporates the prolific role-swapping, costume-changing and clever use of props seamlessly into the action.
Andrew Alexander as hero Hannay lives up to the part with his dashing good looks, also bringing a huge amount of humour to the role.
Talented Catherine Bailey is totally convincing in all her guises. My favourite was the young Scottish wife, downtrodden Margaret, a contrast to the elegant and sophisticated Annabelle and Pamela.
Stephen Critchlow and Ian Hughes definitely bring the wow factor to the evening. Nobody could watch this production and not be full of admiration for all their skillful and humorous characterisations..
Fast-paced, laugh-out-loud funny, quirky and consistently surprising, with a brilliant cast, The 39 Steps is an adventure not to miss out on.
Review by Joanna Forest
Content updated 12th January 2014