Review: HBT Presents ‘The 39 Steps’

Hild Bede Theatre’s production of ‘The 39 Steps’, directed by Hugo Millard was a unique and entertaining take on the well-loved adventure classic.

‘The Thirty-Nine Steps’ was originally a 1915 adventure book by John Buchan, but the plot of this production took a lot more from the famous Hitchcock adaptation from the 30s. The storyline of the latter is much more condensed and suited to this kind of stage production, and they kept the dialogue quite close to the film which worked pretty well.

Some of the action was a bit blurred with the fast pace, Hannay borrowing the coat of the milkman was lost on me at the time, but it didn’t really matter as what they emphasised was the humour of these scenes rather than the development of the plot. It was a wise decision to add a significant amount of comedy as I think this works well with student productions, and to this end Frank Dudley was an excellent choice for the leading role of Richard Hannay. He played the typical ‘stiff upper lip’ character convincingly, with the appropriate, if over-the-top, posh accent. He was particularly good at the physical comedy, and the actions which made up for the lack of props and elaborate sets. The scene on the train was particularly funny, and with just a couple of chairs the actors managed to make an illusion of being in a moving carriage. The cleverly timed sound effects and musical interludes also helped to build up vision of the different locations, and helped to offset the minimalist backdrop.  

The four-person cast managed very well in distinguishing between all of the different characters, especially the ‘clowns’, Dani Frankal and Alice Liddle, who at one time played three characters in the same scene. It was a little confusing at times, but they were so conscious of the silliness of them swapping costumes on stage mid-scene that this played into the production’s overall humour.

Alesya Matyukhina played all three of Hannay’s love interests, characters which, in keeping with the 1935 film, varied little in terms of personality, but greatly in terms of accents: from a Russian spy to a Scottish housewife. Using the same actress for all three parts satirised the number of different women Hannay was involved with, and they used a handmade sign reading ‘sexual tension’ to drive home the comedy of these constant encounters.

The whole production thrived on the idea of meta-theatre, with performances constantly happening within the play itself. There was also a sudden moment in the second half where Hannay broke the fourth wall and called out to the audience for participation. He chose someone at random, and as I was sitting on the front row, for a moment I thought that he was pointing at me, but thankfully it was directed at the people sat behind me who seemed relatively willing to play along.

I went to see this production on opening night, and already everything seemed to run smoothly, with limited mistakes or technical difficulties. Their run lasts for another two nights, until the 16th of November, and I would highly recommend taking the time to catch it! If you miss this one, Hild Bede Theatre is also putting on ‘Death’ by Woody Allen later in November, which is something to look out for.

By Isabel Carmichael-Davis

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