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Review: 39 Steps is theatre at its finest
BRILLIANTLY acted and imaginatively improvised, The 39 Steps left the audience feeling as high as if they had climbed all those steps themselves when it opened at Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre.
It was theatre at its finest as two hours of fast-paced comedy raced by with Patrick Barlow’s award-winning adaptation of John Buchan’s classic 1930s tale of chase and espionage.
If ever there was a case of the stage fighting back against film this is it. The cast of just four actors (Richard Ede, Charlotte Peters, Tony Bell and Gary Mackay) expertly switched their way between a myriad of different characters from train passengers to policemen and from baddies to landladies in a highly amusing manner which cinema could never have portrayed.
The story revolves around moustached hero Richard Hannay – played by Richard Ede – a man stuck in his dull mid-life crisis before a chance encounter leads him inadvertently to learn too much about a secret spy ring and he has to save his country.
He is forced to go on the run after being picked up by femme fatale, Annabella Schmidt (Charlotte Peters) who is murdered in his apartment. After finding her with a knife in her back, he is soon embroiled in a murky world of spies and double crossing as he is accused of her murder.
The play is performed in front of the most minimal of sets but, with some creative lighting, amusing puppetry and highly-ingenius use of budget props, the scene is transformed to a variety of locations from London to Scotland in a manner that adds hugely to the play’s comedic charm.
With only limited and low-cost props to play with, the acting and timing has to be impeccable, and it is, as the talented quartet turn simple scenes, such as a train ride where three trunks become the carriage, into as memorable and as convincing a stage scene as I have seen for years. Like Hannay’s death-defying escape from the roof of the train, the plot races on at break-neck pace amid quick costume changes – often made with just the transfer of a hat or a coat or a smart 180 degree turn to reveal a different costume.
It leaves the audience marvelling at Bell and Mackay’s skill as their characters interchange with lightning voracity as they juggle with multiple parts within the same scene, playing them all to perfection.
Innovative and entertaining it’s hard to think of a night out that’s so rich in enjoyment.
THE 39 Steps is at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre until Saturday at 7.30pm each night with a Saturday matinee at 2.30pm. Tickets are £9 to £26. Call 0844 8717607 or go to www.atgtickets.com/aylesbury to book.
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