The 39 Steps

  • Comedy
  • Based on John Buchan’s 1915 novel and Hitchcock’s 1935 film
  • Adapted by Patrick Barlow
  • Original concept: Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon
  • Directors: Maria Aitken and James Farrell
  • Cast: Richard Ede, Olivia Greene, Andrew Hodges and Rob Witcomb
  • Theatre Royal, Glasgow
  • Until 21st May 2016
  • Review by S. A. McCracken
  • 17 May 2016
The 39 Steps
4.0Reviewer's Rating

An award winning, Hitchcock-inspired production with four actors, playing 139 roles in 100minutes? Yes please. It’s the end of the show’s nine year run in London. There are several things I was going to talk about, like the incredible shadow puppetry, the hilarious Man 1 and Man 2 (Hodges and Witcomb) who are not always men, or even people, and who make a great owl and a marsh (!?). I was going to talk about all of the allusions to Hitchcock, whose 1935 film version of Buchan’s novel is far more iconic than the book itself. Or how about the Flying Scotsman scene, which is particularly exciting given that the actual, newly restored Flying Scotsman train started running again this week? Then there was the apologetic lady in the audience who screamed at one of the more dramatic scenes…

But no. The show has already received so many accolades and gushing reviews that instead I’m going to talk about the safety curtain. A fascinating topic I’m sure you’ll agree. When I was little I always wondered what would happen if that curtain came down in the middle of a performance. Would the actors be trapped behind it? Would they squeeze out from underneath and run squealing towards the fire exits? Would the zealot thespians decide the show must go on, but behind the curtain?

Last night I found out. Right in the middle of the (once controversial) stockings and suspenders scene, the safety curtain comes down. The audience gathers outside on the pavement and we speculate about what caused the fire alarm to go off. I’m wondering what the actors are doing. What seems like only 10 minutes later, we’re back in our seats, the curtain rises, and the stockings come off again. What was I expecting? What were you expecting?

The show hasn’t lost any momentum. If anything, it gains some. The sandwiches Ede and Greene were eating before the curtain came down are now half the size. The rapid character changes become increasingly absurd, a fifth cast member has everyone flummoxed, and the villain milks his death scene for all it’s worth. This production may not be running in London anymore, but it’s certainly still worth catching. All aboard the Flying Scotsman! Literally. You can board it. It’s running again.


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