John Buchan’s The 39 Steps, the quintessential ripping yarn, is being sent up in what will surely become a theatrical classic.
This delicious, wickedly funny adaptation was first conceived for the North Country Theatre company by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon and it has been “touched up” - to quote the posters - by Patrick Barlow. A touch more mock patriotism is needed, but that is this reviewer’s only quibble.
Scenery is so much part of the show. The great set piece scenes from Hitchcock’s film version are all here but they are reduced to a comic scale. The Forth Bridge is made from decorator’s trestle ladders. The epic chase across the Scottish moors is shown with simple, indeed basic, shadow puppets. Everything is hilariously inventive but nothing is silly.
Robert Whitelock, as the dashing Richard Hanney, has the requisite manner and pencil moustache of the gentleman hero. Lisa Jackson plays all the glamorous women, giving them the necessary mystery, innocence and enticing charm.
Simon Gregor and Mark Hadfield have a rich array of characters to play and they play them superbly. In an instant they are villainous spies or plodding policemen or comic Scotsmen or whatever else. The pair’s quick and sometimes repeated changes at railway carriage windows and at hotel reception desks are cleverly worked.
There will be few, if any, empty seats wherever this production plays. When the tour ends there will be other productions. Theatre of this quality does not stay on the shelf for too long.