The 39 Steps review at New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme – ‘delightfully zany’
In Patrick Barlow’s Olivier-winning 2005 reworking of the classic John Buchan spy caper, pretty much everything – even death – is a potential source of comedy. Espionage thrillers, Hitchcockian noir and Scottish stereotypes are all ripe for mockery.
Theresa Heskins’ revival for the New Vic is dynamic and lively. James Atherton’s music and Alex Day’s sound design fit the genre-bending style of the show perfectly and Dawn Allsopp’s set works hard as the manhunt moves from London to Scotland. Window frames become railway carriages, a podium and a four-poster bed during slickly choreographed scene changes.
The pace is frenetic, particularly in a first half dominated by physical comedy and parody. Isaac Stanmore, as protagonist Richard Hannay, and Rebecca Brewer (in a range of female roles) handle this well, while Gareth Cassidy and Michael Hugo make an excellent comic duo as they transform into a bewildering array of characters – vaudeville performers, arch villains and doddering Scottish pensioners.
In the second half, funny dialogue is brought to the fore through the lively interplay between Stanmore and Brewer’s Pamela as they are shackled together against their will. Heskins’ direction beautifully exploits the chemistry between cast members, and she utilises the in-the-round auditorium to full effect during the chase sequences at the story’s climax.
With so much in a state of flux as the supporting actors shift roles, the character of Hannay is the one constant, Stanmore plays him with suave confidence and charm, carrying the narrative admirably.
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