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The 39 Steps | Sheffield Lyceum

Why turn a 1935 spy thriller into a Play-That-Goes-Wrong-esque stage comedy? Why not?The 39 Steps is a delightful (if slightly bizarre) evening of classic film revival. Adapted from John Buchan's classic whodunnit novel and Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 interpretation, Patrick Barlow's rendition transforms it into a highly physical and uproariously comedic experience.

Tom Byrne sets the purposefully overdramatic 'this is a play' tone in an opening centre-stage monologue as Richard Hannay, whom he plays for the show's entirety. Meanwhile, his fellow cast members Safeena Ladha, Euegene McCoy and Maddie Rice have their work cut out for them playing a total of 100 different characters throughout the 100 minute run-time. You're quickly dropped into the almost panto-like staging of it all: quick hat swaps as character changes, actors as scenery (a particularly hilarious journey through the dark woods comes to mind), and plenty of physical gags. 

The plot itself is fairly dense, especially when paired with the clowning performances from the cast. Unless you're familiar with the Hitchcock classic, you may find yourself unsure of when to anticipate the next laugh or listen carefully to unfolding plot points. While the laugh out loud moments were there (mostly from McCoy and Rice's stage time which often stole the show), the fluidity of comedic timing and placement within each scene could be tighter. The balance between gags and exposition at times seemed disjointed; I felt the audience waiting a bit too long for the next laugh in the second act.

By the final scene, I'd found myself still not entirely sure who or what the referenced '39 Steps' actually is or are, but the ache from my belly laughing told me I didn't care. Barlow's adaptation promises an enjoyable night for aficionados of Hitchcock or enthusiasts of timeless early 20th-century spy tales. The 39 Steps runs at Sheffield Lyceum until 4th May - for more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.


Gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Mark Senior


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