Wednesday, October 30, 2019


Adapted by Patrick Barlow from the movie by Alfred Hitchcock and the novel by John Buchan
Associate Director: Corey McMahon
Originally directed by Jon Halpin
State Theatre Company of South Australia
The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre to 2 November

Reviewed by Len Power 29 October 2019

Last seen here a few years ago, The State Theatre Company of South Australia’s production of ‘The 39 Steps’ has returned to Canberra.  Based on Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1935 movie of the same name, which was adapted from the much less exciting novel by John Buchan, it’s an adventure yarn with a handsome, still upper lip hero, a beautiful woman and dangerous crooks.

Adapted by Patrick Barlow in 2005 from an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon, ‘The 39 Steps’ became a massive hit on the London stage, running for 9 years.  It’s a smart, witty theatrical vehicle for four actors in multiple roles who parody the clichéd elements of the plot using a jumble of mundane items scattered about the stage to represent important items in the story.  How these items are used by the frantic actors is the fun aspect of this show.  Things often carefully go wrong, forcing the actors to appear to improvise.  The story ultimately doesn’t matter.  We just want to see what these crazy people will do next.

From left: Charles Mayer (behind), Tim Overton, Anna Steen and Nathan Page

The cast of this production give memorable performances.  As Richard Hannay, Nathan Page is a delightful cliché of a dashing and resourceful English hero.  Anna Steen scores in three roles and is especially good fun as Hannay’s love interest involved in hair-breadth adventures and escapes with him.  The two other performers – Charles Mayer and Tim Overton - are billed as ‘The Other’ and ‘The Other Others’.  They play the rest of the many characters in the story at breakneck speed, changing costumes, gender and accents at a dizzying pace.  Their performances are absolutely superb.

On the train to Scotland...

Production values on this show are very high.  Corey McMahon’s direction is excellent, engaging our imagination at every turn and moving smoothly from one mad moment to the next.

On opening night, a moth fluttered down in front of one of the actors who seamlessly included it in the action.  Maybe that incident is in the show every night - these performers are so skilful, nothing would surprise me.  The moth seemed to know what it was doing, too.

Photos by Shane Reid

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.