10 April 2008

The 39 Steps

The 39 Steps
10 April 2008
The Playhouse, the Arts Centre

The MTC's production of The 39 Steps is satire mixed with slapstick and a dash of irony – all blended as one hilarious spoof.

This 39 Steps is an adaptation of the Alfred Hitchcock 1939 film, which was an adaptation of the 1914 John Buchan novel. Patrick Barlow’s stage version won the 2007 Oliver Award for Best New Comedy. The production was so good, that the MTC brought director Maria Aitken to Melbourne to direct our version. 

So how do you make the cinematic theatrical? Well, you must know your Hitchcock and every convention of spy thrillers and noir mysteries. Then you put them on a stage. Of course, this show is spoof, so it only takes an image, an effect or a hint to let the audience know what it is referencing. Strobes, fog and fine mime all contribute to this leg slapping evening.

The story is non-stop, expected coincidence and improbable escape. These images may seem cliché, but this was the genre that created those clichés, so they feel remarkably fresh. The 39 Steps works because it pays homage to Hitchcock. Without the context of the film, it would probably just be a lot of fun. Within its context, it’s hilarious. (As the MTC audience appear to be such anglophiles, no one will be left wondering what the joke is all about.)

Marcus Graham is a natural choice for Richard Hannay - suave, charming and able to play the straight clown to perfection. The more I see Graham in comic roles, the more I like him. He is ably joined by Helen Christinson as his femme fatales. She also proves that sexy, seductive and funny can be in the same package. Grant Piro and Tony Taylor play everyone else. They’re not quite as sexy as the other two, unless you think very funny is sexy. Clowning is an art that can be quite overwhelming on a stage. These two have an abundance of characters that could so easily steal every scene.  Instead, they generously share the laughs, as they aptly balance character and clown with plot and story.

If you are a Hitchcock fan, The 39 Steps is a must. You may find yourself rolling in the aisles as you look for his guest appearance and count the film references. If not, don’t worry, as it’s thoroughly enjoyable regardless. 

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

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