Fast, furious and fantastic fun

Charlotte Peters  as Pamela and Richard Ede  as Richard Hannay, Picture: Dan Tsantilis 

The 39 Steps
Malvern Theatres
*****
FROM the moment our hero, notorious Richard Hannay, appears on stage with his pipe and rather dashing thin moustache, it's a whirlwind of a jolly old British adventure.
With just four actors taking on all 139 characters in this spy thriller-turned comedy, it's an energetic, rip-roaring ride that leaves you as breathless as the cast after their multitude of lightning-speed costume changes.
But this is not just a witty, resourceful version of John Buchan's The 39 Steps (with excellent clipped Received Pronunciation), it's also a homage to the director that made this story so well loved - Alfred Hitchcock.
Hitchcock's famous rotund silhouette is snuck into the proceedings at one point, along with name-checks and scenes reminiscent of his most famous films. North by Northwest gets a nod as our hero dives for cover from shooting planes, while in a bizarre but fun twist, a shower curtain doubles up as a waterfall on the Scottish moors to create an infamous Psycho scene.  
This play puts its cards on the table from curtain up. It's all very jolly hockey sticks with an emphasis on fun. The fact there are only four actors swapping between parts provides a butt of many jokes with the audience too. It has been repaid with accolades for its comedy including a Laurence Olivier Award and two Tony awards.

Set ahead of the Second World War, the story unfolds as bachelor Hannay accidentally falls into a spy plot to send vital military information to Germany after inviting an attractive woman back to his flat. When she is stabbed to death during the night, he uses her final words to blow open the spy ring while being chased by police as a suspected murderer.

Adventure, romance, mystery and plenty of comedy, this play has it all.

Set in London and Scotland, the bare set is cleverly transformed despite scant props. While Richard Ede is a dashing, strong lead as Hannay, I must say he gets off lightly as it is his colleagues who have to transform themselves into the complexity of numerous roles. His girl Friday, Charlotte Peters - playing nearly all of the female roles - transforms herself impressively, especially as a relative newcomer to the stage.

But it is Tony Bell and Gary Mackay that have the most challenging parts, swiftly dipping and diving between characters in a heartbeat.

It may sound raucous, but despite being much more comic than the Hitchcock film, it also remains extremely faithful to it. 

The 39 Steps is a super must-see play that will leave you completely spellbound. To 22-06-13.

Alison Brinkworth 

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