The 39 Steps – Review

by | Jun 23, 2024 | Featured, Reviews

The 39 Steps – Norwich Theatre Royal

The 39 Steps was published as a book in 1915 then Alfred Hitchcock turned it into a famous classic spy thriller film in the 1930s about an ordinary man who accidentally becomes accused of murder and caught up in world of spies trying to steal British secrets.

Now this whodunnit murder mystery has been adapted by Patrick Barlow into a side-splitting comedy theatre show. Talk about turning it on it’s head and who would have thought a suspense thriller could be so hilarious, however when you have four courageous actors playing 139 different characters you are kept on your toes for a fast-paced entertaining show.

Handsome accidental hero, Richard Hannay, with his stiff-upper-lip, British gung-ho attitude and pencil moustache, is happily enjoying an evening at the theatre when gunshots are heard and the audience are in a blind panic. Richard finds himself consoling a lady, Annabella Smith, who, after she persuades him to take her home so she can rest, informs him that she’s a spy and has uncovered a plot to steal British secrets by a man missing the top of one finger.

She mentions ‘The 39 Steps’ with no further explanation. Later that night, her dying words, as she has a dagger in her back, Annabella tells Richard to get away from the assassins who are waiting outside. Richard takes the item she is holding and makes a run for it, dressed as a milkman.

The item is a map of a place in Scotland with a building circled, so the only thing he can think of doing is going to this building to find out more about what’s going on. On the train journey up he is aware there is a nationwide manhunt for Annabella Smith’s murderer with Richard as the main suspect!

Trying to go unnoticed, Richard is on a mission to find the truth about The 39 Steps and to clear his name.

There are endless moments of comedy, all creatively threaded through different layers, whether it’s visual (showing how windy it is), physical (escaping through a window frame), timing (the appearance of the assassins by the lamppost), auditory (the impression of the speaker on the end of the telephone – one of my favourites as last heard in a Tom and Jerry short) or just plain obvious (‘Bob’s your Uncle?’) – there is humour across the board to make everyone laugh and giggle more than many times.

There are 139 characters in the play, all brought to life by four energetic and talented actors. Multi-rolling itself is a recipe for hilarity, particularly when two characters played by the same actor need to be in the same room having a conversation. The quick-minded actors are able to perform mental acrobatics swapping facial expressions, accents and character portrayal in breakneck speeds in order to keep the pace and flow of the show.

This is a cleverly scripted, perfectly executed comedy spy thriller with precision choreography performed by highly accomplished actors. A super fun night out.

the 39 steps

Listings at Norwich Theatre Royal

The 39 Steps show website


  • Hayley Clapperton

    Hayley is a business co-owner working too many hours so it's a good job she's passionate about it. Hayley's down time is music, music and music of all types and she enjoys going to gigs, listening to new bands and breathing in the energy it creates.

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