Take 4 actors, a play based on a movie that was based on a novel, an assortment of spies, a tender love story, British Military secrets, dead bodies, heroes and villains as well as an annoyingly catchy tune and you have Patrick Barlow's The 39 Steps.
The play is not to be confused with the famous 1935 Alfred Hitcock film – even though the script is almost word for word – however if you loved that film for its serious spy story this version will have you in stitches for the very same plot line. The allure of this play has swept our local theatres as well as continuing to hold its own OS. Actors want to be in it and directors are flocking to lead it.
Director Doug Bennett finds himself heading the hilarious madness in 1812's upcoming production. He was hampered by other commitments a couple of years ago when initially asked to direct it but he made sure to free his calendar this year. "Having seen the Athenaeum Theatre Company's production last year and the world wide publicity surrounding Patrick Barlow's adaptation of the iconic Alfred Hitchcock movie made in the mid thirties, I decided to accept 1812's invitation to direct it for them," explains Bennett. "The Hitchcock movie starred Robert Donat and Peggy Ashcroft, this classic black and white 30's spy movie was transformed by Patrick Barlow a couple of years ago into an hilarious spoof, guaranteed to 'split all sides', it is still running on Broadway and The West End, and indeed in hundreds of theatres around the world."
The play's concept calls for the entirety of the 1935 film to be performed with a cast of only four. One actor plays the hero, Richard Hannay, and the other 150 or so roles are divided amongst the remaining three. No mean feat as actors are asked to play multiple roles which include switching characters within a split second in the same scene. The play also has huge lighting demands integral to the whole says Bennett. "To present this play effectively, it requires creative lighting and sound effects, which number one hundred or so, skilled designers and operators are essential to realise the full potential of the play."
Bennett has always been attracted to scripts that require inventiveness, and thinking outside all of the squares as well as relishing challenge. He concedes that The 39 Steps offers more challenges than most and indentifies one of the main challenges as the importance of maintaining the integrity of the script but, at the same time, keeping it fresh and exciting and rocketing along at break neck speed, but with crystal clear clarity, so as not to loose the audience on the way. Bennett concedes another challenge which he describes is the ability to resist the temptation to embellish with additional extra ' good ideas '. "The script is brimming over with ideas, they simply have to be discovered and used to good comic effect," he says.
The play is a hilarious romp that is winning audiences all over the world. The play won the Olivier Award for Best Comedy in 2007 and the What's On Stage Award for Best Comedy 2007. It guarantees to have the audience rolling in the aisles. Bennett's wish is that the 1812 audiences leave the theatre, laughing out loud, as they recall the scenes that had them falling about in their seats, and how faithful to the movie this version of ' The 39 Steps ' is, but this time, an uproarious comedy / spoof. "I would say to the 1812 audiences, to put aside their preconceived ideas about ' The 39 Steps ' and come on board for the theatrical ride of their lives."
The 39 Steps plays at 1812 Theatre form November 15 – December 8