Adapted by Patrick Barlow from the novel by John Buchan
Directed by Jarrad West
Canberra REP at Theatre 3 to 1 July
Reviewed by Len Power 16 June 2017
The original West End production of ‘The 39 Steps’ ran for 9 years. It took a serious story from a well-known 1935 Alfred Hitchcock movie and performed it for laughs with a small cast playing all the roles. This concept has since inspired or influenced similar successful shows like ‘Brief Encounter’ and ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’.
Jarrad West’s production for Canberra REP moves at a cracking pace and retains the cinematic feel of the show. There are good imaginative moments and delightfully surreal touches along the way. Unfortunately the cast members playing multiple roles have been directed to play constantly over the top, making the show seem desperate for laughs and therefore less funny than it should be.
The one actor who doesn’t play multiple roles, Patrick Galen-Mules, gives a very good performance as the central character, Richard Hannay. He captures the dashing character of an upper class, cultured hero of the period very nicely. Steph Roberts is appealing as the heroine in the bedroom scene with Richard Hannay and Helen McFarlane is very funny as the Scottish innkeeper’s wife. Nelson Blattman works hard in multiple roles. He would have more credibility if his hair was cut to suit the period of the play.
Tim Sekuless has produced an excellent and witty sound design but the music underscoring is too loud and drowns out the dialogue. Michael Sparks’ set design works well and Fiona Leach has designed very good costumes.
Jarrad West says he strived for ‘pure, unadulterated silliness’. It’s there and fun but a bit more realistic playing would have added to the fun, too.
This review was first published in the Canberra City News Digital Edition on 17 June 2017.
Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7's ‘Artcetera’ program (9am Saturdays), ‘Dress Circle’ (3.30pm Mondays) and in other selected Artsound programs.