first night

The 39 Steps

Monika Kawai journeys by train, by road and by air, from the comfort of the Assembly Rooms.

Pencil moustached with a stiff-upper lip, Richard Hannay (Joe Burke) is jolted from a life of decanted brandies and comfortable armchairs when a beautiful foreign spy (Elissa Churchill) is murdered in his London flat. What follows is a frantic escape by Hannay to the Scottish Highlands to find the killer, clear his name of murder and foil the plot of a German spy.

Adapted from John Buchan’s spy novel and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film, The 39 Steps is a brilliantly comic, tongue-in-cheek espionage thriller. The laughs are prompted by bullet-proof hymn books, cross-dressing grannies and quick changing regional accents. The gags are indeed ridiculous but the comedy mainly comes from the fact that the theatre is such an inappropriate medium to stage an action-heavy thriller.  How do you simulate an Indiana Jones style escape from a moving train onto a bridge, a Highlands trek and a German spy plane? The director, Ben Weaver-Hincks, and the technical team under ZoŃ‘ Ogahara, must be congratulated for their superb work. A metal pole becomes a travelling train, a model aeroplane becomes the real thing - such imaginative use of props and blocking successfully portrayed both an excitingly thrilling and comic spy chase.

Aside from the technical and directing team however, the four actors faced with the difficult challenge of playing over a hundred characters must be equally applauded. Joe Burke’s subtly naturalistic Hannay fitted well with the more self-consciously comic female characters played by Elissa Churchill. The romantic coupling between Hannay and Pamela was brought off with great comic timing from both actors, and even when the handcuffs locking the unwilling couple to each other accidentally broke during the performance, Burke and Churchill admirably carried on.

Felix Stevenson and Tom McNulty also had great fun as the comic duo, whizzing around in different hats, wigs and costumes and depicting a range of characters - spies, newspaper boy, London bobby and Scottish OAPs to list a few. Regional accents were occasionally dodgy and some greater shades in pitching and volume could have been considered to portray the startling array of characters but overall, Stevenson and McNulty brought a huge energy and comic gusto to the play.

Kronos Productions have faced both the technical and acting challenges presented by such a theatrically imaginative play. The 39 Steps will have you laughing throughout – a great evening to spend banishing away those winter blues.  


Monika Kawai



2 November 2012

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