The 39 Steps is a comedy based on the adventures of stiff-upper-lip hero Richard Hannay, who is caught up in a satirical spy plot involving a number hilarious and improbable predicaments. With a cast of five playing around forty characters, this show is guaranteed to be a comedic spectacle of no small intensity.
The play acknowledges the Hitchcock film it is adapted from, and director Antonia Hansen says that she intends to incorporate a ‘play-within-a-play’ element to her production, as we watch the actors within it struggle to create the film itself.
Hansen told me that she sometimes think student theatre can take itself too seriously, and says that the main aim of this play is to create a fun atmosphere for the audience, which incorporates a self-awareness of the amateurishness that is intrinsic to student theatre.
I enjoyed the three scenes I watched in Mansfield college, and felt I gained an essence of how the production will fit together as a whole. Its greatest strength seems to lie in its physical comedy, and the range of talent displayed by its small cast.
Benedict Turvell is a strong lead, and he demonstrated the kind of baffled despair which is integral to carrying out such farcical theatre. I particularly enjoyed a scene in which a woman (played by Miranda Mackay) dies on top of him, and he is forced to wiggle out from underneath her.
Most impressive was a scene in which all five actors are on a train together, with more physical comedy displayed by Turvell, Jon Berry and Carlo QC, as they struggle to get past each other in a cramped train carriage. Berry, QC and Miranda Mackay play multiple role throughout, and I was impressed by the range demonstrated by all of them. Jon Berry played three different ‘salt-of-the-earth-bloke’ characters in the space of two scenes, but each of them felt distinct and well characterized.
Another scene involved Hannay finding himself handcuffed to a woman (played by Teddy Briggs) who hates him, and the two of them are forced to share a hotel room together. Although this scene is all set to guarantee laughs from the audience, I felt it was somewhat let down by QC’s ‘Scottish maid’ character, whose accent was so over-the-top it became virtually incomprehensible. Although this seemed to be part of the joke, in practice it only served to upstage the otherwise hilarious handcuff situation.
Although I only saw a small section, this production still feels a little rough around the edges, and the company have hard work ahead of them over the next week. However, I feel confident that they will be able to pull it off, and by opening night the show will have the energy and precision it requires to be a success. I certainly intend to buy a ticket.