Lyric Theatre, The Lowry
Poor Richard Hannay – framed for the murder of a mysterious young woman he’s only recently met, he’s had to go on the run to a remote corner of the Scottish Highlands in order to prove his innocence. But danger lies in wait for him at every step…
Hannay is of course the great British hero of The 39 Steps. John Buchan’s classic novel was first published in 1915 and famously filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935. This touring production, originally adapted by Patrick Barlow in 2006 comes direct from the West End and it’s easy to see the qualities that have pulled in packed audiences ever since. With a cast of just four actors, this is played primarily for laughs and conducted at breakneck pace with plenty of lightning-fast costume changes and a repeated motif of effects that go slightly wrong. It’s clear too that this is much more Hitchcock’s version of the story than Buchan’s – film fans will spot plenty of references to Hitch’s best known movies thrown into the mix. (In a shadow puppet sequence depicting a chase across the hills, keep an eye out for one particularly recognisable silhouette.)
Richard Ede makes an appealing pipe-smoking, Harris tweed-wearing hero, while his three fellow actors virtually run themselves into the ground providing a whole wealth of supporting characters for him to interact with. In the cavernous setting of the Lyric theatre, it was sometimes a struggle to make out every line of dialogue (I would have loved to see this in the more intimate setting of the studio theatre, but you can’t fault the producers for wanting to pitch this to the biggest possible audiences) and there’s no doubting the consummate professionalism on show here, nor the wit of Barlow’s script. It’s probably also true to say that when this production first aired many of the staging techniques on show would have seemed ground-breaking – now, they are part of the everyday language of contemporary theatre.
That said, this offers a fun and entertaining night out for lovers of adventure and comedy alike. It’s on untilSaturday 25th June.