The 39 Steps
Brisbane Arts Theatre
February 25 – April 1
From its initial soundtrack strains of the 1932 British song ‘Hush, Hush, Hush (Here Comes the Boogeyman)’, it is clear that “The 39 Steps” is of no particular time and place sensibility. Indeed, the story begins in August 1935; tired of life bachelor Richard Hannay (Jonathon Devitt) takes himself out to the London theatre where, while watching the superlative powers of recall of ‘Mr Memory’ (Darren King), he meets a mysterious German woman. Returning home with him she shares story of her quest to solve the mystery of the 39 steps, despite the two suspicious men shadowing the house. When she is murdered, Hannay is suspect number one so escapes to the Scottish highlands, where things get farscial (#inagoodway) as he attempts to expose the real culprits, prevent the revelation of national secrets and deal with an initially reluctant love interest, Pamela (Clari Argente).
It is a typical Hitchcock thriller, given a Monty Python twist with some shades of “Little Britain”. And the result is very funny with metatheatre awareness of on-stage antics, hint at Hitchcock motifs and titles and even some Shakespearean allusion to Dogberry and Verges from “Much Ado About Nothing” in the story’s bumbling police searching for Hannay during his train journey north. With cross-dressing, dodgy wigs and performers alternating between characters within scenes, there is potential for complete chaos, however, the thoroughly-committed performances from ‘clowns’ Don Tennison, Reagan Warner, Darren King, Sarah Britton and Marselan Wignall make for a rewarding vaudevillian atmosphere. Staging too is clever in its clumsiness as a lamppost is rushed on and off stage in quick succession to show outside action and characters climb through portable timber square window frames. Vaudeville traditions also see use of a live pianist who works with performers to punctuate their actions.
Under John Boyce’s direction, all of the show’s players work together in compliment, which is no easy task given the show’s fast-pace. And their Scottish accents are excellent in capture of its rolling rs, and ah and oo sounds. Jonathon Devitt’s Hannay is perfect; bumbling about with pencil moustache and in Harrods tweed jacket, he conveys the appealing likeability of a ‘good guy’ gentlemen who wears elbow-patch jackets and always carries a handkerchief.
Although some scenes lag more than others, especially in Act Two, such when Hannay is called upon to make an impromptu speech before a political meeting with absolutely no idea who or what he’s supposed to talk about, overall the experience of “The 39 Steps” is a jolly, joyous one and it is easy to appreciate why Brisbane Arts Theatre have commissioned it for a return season. As thrillers go, this is a show quite unlike any other, fast-moving, witty and worth partake of its highly entertaining banter.