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The 39 Steps review: A delight from start to finish

PUBLISHED: 13:17 16 February 2019

The 39 Steps. Photo: Sean Owen

The 39 Steps. Photo: Sean Owen

Reflective Arts

This stupendously silly spy thriller is a delight from start to finish.

Based on the story – but not the style – of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1939 film, itself a loose adaptation of John Buchan’s book, this comic romp turns theatre convention on its head.

Just four actors represent dozens of characters, making frequent in-jokes and playfully messing with what it means to be on stage: we see fake cars with breadstick window wipers, beds constructed out of people, and some very odd escapes through windows.

Everything is played for laughs, particularly by Molly-Rose Treves and Ben Prudence who take on most of the heavy lifting playing policemen, hotel owners, crofters, music hall stars, and even an airplane. Their comic asides to the audience are perfectly timed.

The strikingly tall Harry Benjamin stands out throughout as unwitting hero Richard Hannay, the unassuming chap caught up in a spy ring and having to fight to clear his name of murder. He has the debonair twinkle and sonorous voice of the classic matinee idol; you can’t help rooting for him.

Elea Hepper is a triple love interest, playing a glamorous spy, an innocent Highlander, and a no-nonsense woman of means. She is spot on throughout, but particularly shines as unlucky in love crofter Margaret; her pining tears both comic and strangely moving.

Director Chad Porter and designer James Utting have kept the production tight; it bounces along from gag to gag and the deceptively simple staging strikes the perfect balance between suggestion and functionality. Their planning, and the copious backstage help, is the silent engine that keeps the show running.

Patrick Barlow’s award-winning script is a modern classic, earning it a healthy nine-year West End run. This production by the Maddermarket Players absolutely does it justice.

• The 39 Steps continues until Saturday, February 23 at the Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich.

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