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Review: The 39 Steps, at Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Based mainly on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film, four valiant thesps make this stage adaptation well worth a visit

13 October, 2017 — By Michael Stewart

THERE are so many people involved with this comic adaptation of John Buchan’s thriller that The 39 Hands might be a more apt title.

Based mainly on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film, it is roughly one-third Buchan and two-thirds the invention of Hitch’s scriptwriters, Ian Hay and Charles Bennett. A stage version of the film written by Simon Corbie and Nobby Dimon inspired Patrick Barlow (of The Theatre of Brent) to give it a good old seeing to and this is what the Tower Theatre Company present for us.

Actor-wise though, the cast of hundreds has been boiled down to four valiant thesps who career through the action donning and doffing costumes at breakneck speed while battling furiously with mutinous props. Suave, expatriate Anglo-Scot Richard Hannay (Adam Moulder) is propositioned by vampish foreign spy Annabella Schmidt (Sophie Mackenzie) who lets on she is being chased by the 39 Steps, a murderous group of international spies intent on stealing our military secrets. Sceptical at first, Hannay begins to smell a rat after she collapses in his arms with a whacking great knife in her back.

This galvanises our hero to go on the run to the Scottish Highlands where he believes the spies have their base. Pursued by police, spies, bi-planes, midges and fiendishly tortured Scottish accents that sound like ruptured bagpipes, he surmounts it all manfully, armed only with his pencil moustache clamped defiantly to his stiff upper lip and his rugged, jutting jaw.

Of the one-bound-and-he-is-free school, whenever he is in a fix, even in the midst of a soggy Highland moor, most hilariously, a window appears for him to make his escape.

Directed, or perhaps choreographed, by Rob Ellis, he is brilliantly assisted by Dom Ward and Emily Grimson as the cast of hundreds. Well worth a visit.

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