Review: The 39 Steps, Lyceum Theatre

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THE famous swashbuckling spy adventure written in 1915 by John Buchan involving a chase from London to Scotland and back again, memorably filmed by Alfred Hitchcock 20 years later, is now performed by four actors. The result is inspired lunacy.

Richard Ede is the stiff-upper lip hero Richard Hannay and Charlotte Peters gamely plays the three principal women – German femme fatale, lonely crofter’s wife and the adorable dashing blonde, leaving Tony Bell and Gary Mackay hilariously to dash in an out as all the other characters from dodgy foreign spies to Scottish innkeepers from whistle-blowing coppers on the chase to inanimate (or not so inanimate) objects like stiles and hedges.

The comedy is broad and physical and joyous thanks to the brilliant timing of the acting and the special effects.

Adapted by Patrick Barlow in the style of his National Theatre of Brent, it is faithful to the original story with a few jokes thrown in. As he points out, most of the memorable things were Hitchcock inventions – hanging off the Forth Bridge, the crofter’s wife, the blonde heroine removing her stockings while handcuffed, and Mr Memory Man. and so there are numerous references to other Hitchcock movies for movie buffs to pick up on.

But as well as being an entertaining pastiche of a favourite movie, it says something about the nature of theatre. On the one hand it is sending up the limitations of the stage compared with film but also celebrating its power to stimulate the imagination over the literal medium.

Ian Soutar