John Buchan's The 39 Steps at the Liverpool Playhouse

Continuing a family tradition of a cinema or theatre outing on Christmas Eve, this year, in a sense, we combined the two by seeing the Playhouse production of The Thirty-Nine Steps.  The play, which has been a big success elsewhere and here in Liverpool, is by Patrick Barlow and is more Hitchcock than Buchan – and like neither, in the sense that it is a comedy.  It was great Christmas Eve entertainment, very funny, energetically-performed by the cast of four (out of which a running gag emerged) and staged effectively, particularly in the balletic silent sequences.

The 39 Steps – Playhouse Theatre, Liverpool

This is from the Liverpool Echo review:

Patrick Barlow’s script has thrilled theatres all over the globe and is now cutting a dash across the Liverpool stage in a brand new production for the Playhouse.  It draws on master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film version of Buchan’s original novel, with all 100-plus characters portrayed by just four actors.

Dugald Bruce-Lockhart, whose own name would be perfectly suited to a tale of derring-do, plays mustachioed hero Richard Hannay with perfectly timed dead-pan and just the right amount of exaggeration.  Tippi Hedron-lookalike Katherine Kingsley meanwhile switches from mysterious brunette Annabella Schmidt, Glaswegian housewife Pamela and the earnestly lovely Margaret thanks to a few costume changes and her own great versatility.  Hannay and Margaret are the straight men to Richard Braine and Dan Starkey, who take on the rest of the characters.  They are bungling policemen, variety show acts, enemy spies, underwear salesmen, kilt-sporting hoteliers and many more – sometimes playing numerous characters at a time using more accents than there are in the United Nations.

All of the film’s scenes are also featured – some in depth, others flashing by as the plot zips through the 90-minute script faster than a steam train crossing the Forth Bridge.  The set is minimal but ingenious, relying on the audience’s imagination to fill in the blanks – a picture frame becomes a window Hannay must escape through, doors are wheeled off and on stage to resemble new locations and four dining chairs turn into a car.  Hannay’s escape across the Scottish wilderness is portrayed through a sequence of shadow puppetry that is clever and silly at the same time.

The show is a ripping yarn of a comedy that will have you laughing out loud, while checking the theatre for suspicious characters.

And this, from Click Liverpool:

The play is so fast paced that a cast of four manage to play 139 roles in 100 minutes, which is quite some feat. The incredible aristocratic sounding Dugald Bruce-Lockhart plays the part of Richard Hanney, he brings the right stiff upper lip Britishness to the role and without it being an impersonation of Robert Donat in the original film. His is a very energetic performance and he is on stage for the entire play.

The simply stunning Katherine Kingsley takes on the three main female roles of Annabelle, Margaret and Pamela and swaps accents and costumes so quickly, that you are hard pressed to realise that it is the same actress playing the different roles. Richard Braine and Dan Starkey play all the other roles, I told you this was a fast paced show. Dan Starkey does a very entertaining robotic Mr Memory; he must have taken his inspiration from Peter Crouch, while Richard Braine has more voices than Jon Culshaw…

There are numerous references to Hitchcock films. I will not spoil your enjoyment by repeating them here; just to say if you are a fan of Hitchcocks films it will only add to your enjoyment of  The 39 Steps. Hitchcock always made a cameo appearance in the films he directed and he does not disappoint here. ..

The railway Station that Hitchcock used in The 39 Steps was Lime Street Station, one of the earliest occasions Liverpool was used as a film location. Just thought I would mention that…

10 out of 10 Simply Splendid Darling.


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