The 39 Steps – a funny film farce at The Curve Leicester
Adapted from the novel The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) by John Buchan, this Olivier-Award-winning smash hit comedy originated from London’s West End and arrived in Leicester this week on its 10th anniversary tour.
The story of Richard Hannay, a British everyman who gets embroiled in a mysterious plot where spies attempt to steal military secrets, the show is a unique performance which has just four (!) very brave actors playing 139 (!) roles in a 100-minute stage play.
The show is bookended by Hannay’s character at his (rented) London flat and actor Richard Ede in the central role gives a performance that holds the whole narrative together. From monologues, speeches and comedy escapes, his verbal and physical performance is complimented by Olivia Greene who plays 3 female roles. By far my favourite was Pamela – in which a fair portion of her stage time is spent “tethered” to Hannay in calamitous handcuff scenes.
However, a lot of praise should go to Rob Witcomb & Andrew Hodges as Man 1 and Man 2 who play over 100 parts between them. A dance of costume changes, hat swaps and dual roles in the same scene were an animated delight and the kinetic pace was maintained throughout. Hilarious material was bolstered by entertaining scenes of action where characters pirouetted their bodies around the stage for a slew of horsing around and knowing jokes.
Thus leading to my enjoyment of the play’s subtle (and not so subtle) breaking of the fourth wall. Drawing attention to its own construction, the self-referential gags about the play’s four actors were excellent. From reminding an actor to change their hats after a boisterous scene of character swapping to encouraging phones to ring when they should, the show was as much about its construction as its story.
The entertainment continued as the stars moved props around the stage and drawing attention to this actually happening was a joy to watch. Enough praise cannot be heaped upon the cavorting gymnastics of all four actors. Hannay’s running on the spot failed to get Ede out of breath, Olivia Greene made the most of her reserved characters strange mannerisms and Witcomb & Hodges scrambled and cavorted whilst embodying a range of oddball personalities – even at one time “playing” a stream.
Most famously, The 39 Steps was adapted to film by the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock in 1935 and in 1999 was ranked 4th Best British film of the 20th Century by the BFI. In hindsight, this “man-on-the-run” thriller was a perfect foil for the auteur who used the plot to explore his favourite themes such as a man who is forced to go on the run, the appearance of an archetypical ‘Hitchcock Blonde’ in star Madeleine Carroll and his signature cameo.
The play doesn’t shy from this movie connection and uses dialogue (“I can’t go up there, I have VERTIGO”) and sound (liberal use of the Psycho score) to cement the link whilst another great joke contains a nod to the infamous shower scene.
I thoroughly recommend the show as its exceptional production was enhanced by actors delivering outstanding performances in an inspired take on the renowned show. Moving the thriller to a comedy was a marvellous swap by writer Patrick Barlow, who hails from Leicester, and should be congratulated for an inimitable approach to the material.
The show continues its run at The Curve for a week and the theatre itself is situated in Leicester’s Cultural Quarter and was officially opened by the Queen in 2008 with a curved façade made from 46000m2 of glass. The theatre has an amazing 2016 run of events with many of them having a movie-themed background...
Film-inspired Finding Neverland came to The Curve back in 2012 and later this year Midlanders can see a host of shows including Sister Act, an adaptation of the Whoopi Goldberg comedy and now starring X-Factor winner Alexandra Burke and 9 to 5 – inspired by the cult 1980 movie starring Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton and Jane Fonda.
In addition, further shows like Alan Parker’s Bugsy Malone, Footloose and even The Shawshank Redemption are heading to the city for fans of film and theatre alike.
For more information and tickets please visit the official website here: www.curveonline.co.uk
Midlands Movies Mike