No doubt that when John Buchan wrote The 39 Steps on the eve of the Great War, in 1915, he considered it a serious novel. But Alfred Hitchcock exploited the humor when he adapted the spy thriller for film in 1935, on the eve of the Great War’s sequel. Then, in 2005, Patrick Barlow created this highly theatrical, business-filled version from an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon.
Most of the magic is that there are only three people to play all the characters opposite our beleaguered hero. Listed as “clowns,” Quinn Patrick Shannon and Luke Halferty comprise most of the cast of thousands: police, villains, Pythonian women, et al., sometimes almost simultaneously with the switch of a hat or a prop. Ah, and what they do with a Scots nightgown. Megan Pickrell dons the sexier femme roles, fatale and otherwise. Allan Snyder maintains a high-camp profile as the tall, handsome, hirsute hero. (Freudian aside: Hitch, the same age as the hero when he made the movie, was decidedly short, pudgy and balding.)
And then there is the multimedia stagecraft suggesting swank flats, country estates, moving trains (inside and out) — well, the whole cross-country vision of Hitch’s seminal movie. (Scholars consider it the best of Hitchcock’s early films, introducing the many stylistic elements of what would come to be known as Hitchcockian.) The design team deserves a hand: Tony Ferrieri, set; Andrew David Ostrowski, lights; Bob Bollman, sound; and Stephanie Shaw, costumes. Making the magic real is production stage manager Tim Brady.
The 39 Steps is so very British, but there are plenty of laughs and chortles even if you don’t “get” some of the in-country japes and comic references to many other Hitchcock classics.