15 September 2013

Review: The 39 Steps

The 39 Steps
Hit Productions
14 September
Whitehouse  Centre
to 13 November: tour dates and places

Yesterday I went to Nunawading to see Hit Production's The 39 Steps. The only other times I've been to Nunawading was driving though on the way to winery concerts in the Yarra Valley.

Hit Productions aren't trying to win awards or entice wordy arguments between the snobby critics. Instead, they produce popular shows with terrific casts for audiences who want enjoy going to the theatre and having an ice cream at interval. And they've been doing it since 1993. A quick look at their Facebook page shows actors like John Wood, Jackie Weaver, Lisa McCune and Amanda Muggleton. Hit know their audience and give them what they want.

This is the stage version of the 1939 film version of the 1914 novel. Written by Patrick Barlow, it won the 2007 Olivier Award for Best New Comedy (the UK's top theatre award). In Melbourne, the MTC gave us an Australian cast in the same production in 2008. It was an absolute hoot.

As is this production. With a pinch of the resources of the funded companies, their focus is on the script and the cast, but they still manage to create endless visual jokes with not much more than a pair of ladders and what could be rummaged from an op shop.

The 39 Steps is a spoof of spy films that's made from an obsessive love of early spy films. If you've seen a black and white thriller, you'll recognise the bumbling coppers, breathy femme fatales and upper class morons. If you've missed this world of film, you'll be laughing as much as everyone else and want to see the inspiring film ASAP.

Many of the laughs come from containing the show to cast of four. Mike Smith is the dashing hero in the wrong place at the right time, Anna Burgess is all the women he falls for, and Sam Haft and Michael Lindner are everyone else – and it's a cast of over 100.

It's a super fun and endlessly delightful production of a terrific show, but what I loved most were the audience.

On a Saturday afternoon in the burbs – on the same day that three local footy finals were being played next door – 400 people came to the theatre and loved every moment of the experience and the show.

There was no cynicism and no comparisons that weren't positive. They laughed at every joke (who know plastic fish were THAT funny) and talked during the interval about how much they loved it – and everyone (really) bought an ice cream.

I was the youngest person by about 100 years, the only one in black and the only one updating my Facebook page before the lights went down, but it's impossible to not love this crowd. After the show, a man with a belt not far below his nipples came up to a member of the cast and thanked him. He said that he has a bad back and was only going to stay until interval, but that he was enjoying himself so much that he stayed. It doesn't get much better than that.

So, it may be time to start seeing what's goes on out of our inner city circle of theatres. And for shows to start thinking about grabbing their share of this enthusiastic crowd. More people saw The 39 Steps yesterday than will see a single La Mama show. And when it finishes its tour to 23 regional theatres in Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales and Queensland, more people will see – and adore it – than see a Malthouse or most MTC shows. That's a lot of people.

And, just so Melbourne fans doesn't have to travel, there are four performances at The Atheneum 26, 27 and 28 September.  And the Ath sells choc tops.

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