Review – The 39 Steps

The 39 Steps by John Buchan – adapted by Patrick Barlow –  New Wolsey Young Company –  New Wolsey theatre till  Saturday 4th May

The New Wolsey Young Company, under the guidance of Director Rob Salmon, goes from strength to strength.

The 39 Steps is a serious spy novel written by John Buchan in 1915, which become popular with the soldiers in the trenches and introduced the idea of the ‘innocent man on the run’. It’s been adapted many times, most notably by Alfred Hitchcock in a 1930’s film version, which introduced a love interest absent from the novel.

Writer Patrick Barlow, taking his inspiration from a production by Simon Corbie and Nobby Dimon who adapted it in the late1 990’s for a small stage cast, has turned it into a face paced, physically challenging, spy -spoof written for four actors to play 150 characters in a whirlwind of hi speed chases, dastardly doings, murder and mayhem.

I saw it in the West End a few years ago and thought it was brilliant. This production by the Young Company uses a few more actors to cover the character range but compares very favourably to its West End counterpart. In fact I don’t think they put a foot wrong all evening.

The plot follows retired soldier Richard Hannay, back in London after service in foreign parts and bored out of his brains. Into his life one night at the theatre comes a mysterious woman who invites herself back to his flat, and after leaving cryptic clues to a secret spy ring centred in Scotland, gets herself murdered.

So Hannay finds himself on the run – wanted for murder but making his way to the Highland House on her map in order to find out the secret of the  ’39 steps’ and getting into all sorts of scrapes along the way, including managing to get himself handcuffed to a reluctant female accomplice .

Charlie Shephard takes the part of Hannay – and he is what can only be described as brilliant. On stage all the time he embodied the part with energy, drive and believability, with all the mannerisms plus a supreme confidence that allowed the others in the cast to shine beside him.

Nancy Doubledee was equally excellent as Pamela – caught up in something rather too big for both of them but gamely making the best of the situation while trying to work out some means of escape.

The rest of the ten strong cast revelled in their various roles – supporting the two main characters with wit and verve and such fast paced changes of costume and character as to make your head swirl.

Especial mention to Tom Beattie as the evil Professor, Fred Double as a wonderful Mr Memory, Maddy Wegg and Melina Synadinou with a variety of strange female roles and Harry Longbottom making the most of the part of the Scottish Crofter.

On a very adaptable set, also designed by director Rob Salmon, this was an extremely funny , well acted and well executed piece that belied the age and experience of the cast and squeezed out every possible strand of humour.

A must see – if you can get a ticket.

Suzanne Hawkes

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