A review of The 39 Steps, by Rick Sickinger
Most people know The 39 Steps as a well-regarded early Hitchock film, a 98% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which covers well-worn Hitchcock genres of thriller, intrigue and melodrama. The stage adaptation of The 39 Steps on at The Livery from May 4 – 13, 2017 takes a much more comedic approach to its Hitchcockian source material.
This hilarious adaptation of the action packed film is performed entirely by a cast of four very hardworking actors. Rob Ionescu plays the romantic hero, Richard Hannay. Ionesco, who incidentally bears more than a passing resemblance to Robert Donat who played Hannay in the film version, has the difficult job of being the straight man in the production. Aside from a few winks to the audience that he is in on the joke, Ionescu plays his role in earnest style while all of the silliness happens around him. Any actor will tell you that playing comedy seriously is a difficult business and Ionescu does a remarkable job of being the foil to the other cast members and his performance is really the glue that holds the production together.
Cara Stephenson plays all three of the women who catch our leading man’s eye. Stephenson has great fun playing with female architypes – from femme fatale to Scottish farm wife to Hannay’s nemesis turned true love, Pamela in the best tradition of Tracy and Hepburn.
Rounding out the cast are Jordan Henry and Ron Plasschaert, who play the clowns. Not literal clowns, but definitely clowning around. Henry and Plassschaert have the task of performing all of the other roles in the play – close to a hundred characters in total. They accomplish this Herculean feat just by changing a hat, an accent or a simple costume pieces all while keeping up the break neck speed pace required for the comedy to work. Their performances also deliver the big laughs in the show with madcap performances that keep you chuckling and laughing out loud the whole time they’re on stage. The quick changes and physical comedy required of these roles must be exhausting but both actors appear to be having a blast and the audience can’t help but share in the fun they’re having onstage.
The plays director, Nina Reynolds, displays a deft hand at marshalling all of this mayhem. She keeps the pace of the production (about 2 hours including intermission) moving as swiftly as the Flying Scotsman train where some of the play’s action takes place. The production starts with a bare stage as Reynolds uses her already overworked cast to move all of the set pieces in and out. Thankfully, Reynolds realizes these changes (there are 33 scenes listed in the program) can start to wear on an audience and she deftly mines these set changes for more laughs. Same goes for many of the sound cues which are also utilized for laughs on several occasions. The puns and groaners referring to the titles of many of Hitchcock’s films – including a sight gag that recreates the North by Northwest scene where Cary Grant is attached by the crop duster planes – can be blamed or accredited (depending on your stance) on playwright, Patrick Barlow, who adapted The 39 Steps it for the stage.
A review of The 39 Steps, by Deb Sholdice
Let me preface this by stating that I love community theatre. I love a room full of community members sharing a story. The Goderich Little Theatre never ceases to amaze and delight me.
The preview performance of The 39 Steps was not at all what I expected. I didn’t know the stage version, so was expecting a Hitchcockian thriller. Thankfully, the program notes and the director gave us insight into the concept behind the play, as the script itself doesn’t set itself up well. The timeless classic “play within a play” device is well used. The general idea is that this is an under-staffed theatre company trying to perform the “unstageable” film of The 39 Steps. I was actually ecstatic to discover that it was a comedy and not really a stage version of the spy thriller.
This is truly an ensemble comedy. The gags start off at a lightning pace and don’t let up for the next 2 acts performed in an incredible 33 scenes. The 4 actors deftly manoeuvre set pieces, props and costumes to hilariously recreate a 30’s thriller chasing spies from London to Scotland. Rob Ionescu shines as the actor playing Hannay and is the one that keeps the plot moving forward and allows the comedy to unfold without descending into silliness. Cara Stephenson is brilliantly cast as all of the female characters from the femme fatale to the Scottish cottage wife.
Kudos to director Nina Reynolds for her firm direction that kept Clowns 1 and 2, Jordan Henry and Ron Plasschaert, from stealing the show. They are incredibly funny and their talents with accents and physical comedy make the entire show come alive.
I was a bit apprehensive as I sat waiting for the production to begin, as it was a bare stage and I’ve come to expect somewhat inventive and elaborate sets in the Livery. The cast does it all with several pieces of furniture and a couple of ladders. The director has really set up the smartest sight gags, which for me made the comedy even better. The lighting design (Keith King) and sound design (Liam Morley) really supports the comedy. Impressive all around!
Once again – Bravo, Goderich Little Theatre! Great selection of an ensemble cast that carried a very difficult script. Good comedy is hard to do, and you brought a smart, funny script to life! Great night out!