By Karen Isaacs
The 39 Steps adapted by Patrick Barlow takes the Alfred Hitchcock classic movie of the same name, keeps the plot almost intact and turns it into a music hall romp a la Monty Python.
If you have never seen the film, you won’t realize how close it is to the original film; the film by the way was based on a 1915 novel by John Buchan, though it is substantially changed.
It tells the story of an ordinary man who becomes mixed up with an attractive woman spy while both are attending a music hall; the woman is later killed in his apartment. He takes off to Scotland,, pursued by police; his goal is to find the spy ring that is supposedly about to smuggle secrets out of the country. With the film and show set in the mid-1930s, the hint of WWII is already looming over the country and the Germans make a convenient enemy.
While keeping most of the plots, the cast has been reduced to just four: our handsome hero, the woman who plays all the main female roles – namely the spy who starts the plot off and another woman who is both romantic lead.; and two men – called “the clowns” who play all the other roles – from policemen, music hall performers, a farmer and his wife and more. At times they switch instantaneously between characters.
Even the set makes no attempt at realism; instead it embraces simplicity and creativity. A train is a series of trunks, a cottage is just a door frame, etc.
The success of this show depends on the director and the cast. The timing must be right; the actors must play the roles seriously while getting laughs, not an easy task.
Erick Bloomquist directs the show with a sure hand, keeping the action moving, though at times, it could have moved a bit faster. It’s interesting that he will the creator of The Cobblestone Corridor, described as a contemporary film noir series premiering this fall on CPTV. He is certainly comfortable with the mystery genre.
He is added by a fine cast. Dan Fenaughty plays Richard Hannay, the “average” citizen who gets caught up in the spy mystery. He is well familiar with the show having performed in the show’s national tour. He brings the role, the slightly bored, conventional upper class and upper stiff lipped Englishman who takes everything with aplomb.
Larissa Klinger plays the three main women: Annabella (the spy who is killed), Margaret (the crofter’s wife who is attracted to him) and Pamela (the love interest). Each role calls for a different accent – a middle-European accent for Annabella, Scottish for Margaret and British for Pamela. She carries them off very well.
Jonathan Brody and David Edwards play the two clowns. Both men have substantial credits in such shows as Spamalot, The Producers, The Mystery of Irma Vep and others. They are terrific with split second timing in scenes where each plays multiple roles; the keeping changing hats and accents so that you know who they are.
Adding to the effectiveness are the mid-30s costumes by Cullly Long, the scenic design by Daniel Nischan (which borrows some from the original production), and the lighting design by Marcus Abbott.
39 Steps is a fun evening. My only quibble is that the pace needs to be even faster than it was when I saw it; I’m sure it has picked up during the run.
It is at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., through June 19. For tickets call 860-767-7318 or ivorytonplayhouse.org.