The 39 Steps

at Victoria Hall, Fordham

After reading the book by John Buchan and seeing Hitchcock’s film of ‘The 39 Steps’ I believed there was no way this action-packed spy story could lend itself to comedy. However, with directors Alison O’Connor and Keith Gallois at work with an adaptation of the story by Patrick Barlow, that is exactly what happened. While the story and all its tension and underlying plot were played out, there were also great moments of comedy. They functioned perfectly well, side by side. This was an amazing feat.

Also, amazing were the six performers who managed to present 138 different characters. They were Ben Clark, Jessica Wildman, Samantha Gallop, David Tickner, Kerry Hibbert and Jenny Tayler-Surridge. Richard Hannay was constantly there, with his quest to save the country from a terrible spy ring, and we met the foreign spy Annabella Schmidt, Pamela an unwilling accomplice at first, the eccentric couple in the hotel, Margaret the Crofter’s wife, the stern crofter highly protective of his wife, the doddery campaign team mistakenly introducing Hannay as their candidate, the dastardly evil professor Doctor Jordan, Mr Memory Man who remembered the incredibly long formula at the centre of the intrigue and numerous other essential and non-essential characters.

As director Keith Gallois said ‘It’s all about pace’ and what a delightful rip-roaring pace pervaded the work. With amazing agility and speed the performers changed into their different characters, altering their accents, appearance and movements  in a flash. Favourites for me were Hannay, the bored stage hands, the cosy hotel missus, the doddery political team and Mr Memory Man.

Props and sets were a stage manager’s nightmare – at one moment a cosy room in a flat in London, at another a train travelling towards Scotland. Nothings was left out. Not only did the cast manage to move through the different scenes at a rapid pace, they also managed to occasionally get it wrong (deliberately) producing another giggle from the audience.

Favourite moments were when the spies and the lamppost moved with incredible agility backwards and forwards, never missing a cue as Hannay peeked out of his window to see if they were still there from time to time, the vaudeville acts at the Palladium and when the stage was swamped with bagpipe players.

Congratulations to all contributors and after a show like that we are definitely bound to have a very merry Christmas!