Theatre Review: The 39 Steps
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4/5 It’s easy to see why The 39 Steps has been running for seven years at London’s Criterion Theatre. High on energy and laughter, this frivolous performance manages to combine the lot. It’s witty, energetic, and incredibly clever. With a cast of just four actors playing 139 characters, you’d be surprised they can even make it through the first five minutes... We follow the story of a rather unambitious man called Richard Hannay (Ben Righton). Whilst he’s quite content, he has no real passion to commit himself to something new. That is, of course, until he is approached one evening by a woman claiming to hold secret information – something that could potentially destabilise Europe and have significant consequences for the UK; the country that he so loves. Just as abruptly as this mysterious woman arrives, she is killed before the night draws to a close. Hannay, our patriotic eventual hero, takes on the challenge, and goes on the journey of a lifetime, finding plenty of surprises (and women in the form of Ellie Beaven) along the way. “The 39 Steps” has been described as one of the earliest ‘man on the run’ thrillers to have been written. However, despite the play being based on John Buchan’s novel and Hitchcock’s 1935 film (of the same name) the stories differ greatly. Many of the characters and events are altered in the play, with some completely new additions too. In any case, I’d prefer to describe it as a well-choreographed dance. In order for the comedy to work, the actors rely on split-second timing which must have taken months of rehearsal. There’s no room for mistakes.
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