The 39 Steps

‘The 39 Steps’ is a madcap parody based on the 1915 dramatic novel ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps’ by Scottish Perth-born, historian and author, John Buchan – correctly known as 1st Baron Tweedsmuir GCMG GCVO CH PC DL who was a Unionist politician that served as Governor General of Canada. The 1935 Hitchcock film was possibly one of the cinema’s first thrilling spy films; it was followed by the 1959 film starring Kenneth More, which was much softer and more of a love story in its approach.

Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon wrote this tongue in cheek concept in 1995, receiving a $2,000 grant from the Yorkshire Council, as it was designed to be seen in village halls. In 2005, Patrick Barlow – a cameo part actor who appeared in several films from 1999 to 2005, including ‘Shakespeare in Love’ and ‘Nanny McPhee’, has rewritten the play for four – very busy – actors (this show has seven actors). Although this version only premiered 14 years ago, it has circled the world, reaping numerous awards in the process. Now we have this VERY light-hearted, multi-award-winning version, which is the fifth longest running London West End play and it had 771 performances on Broadway.

This 2-hr play is being presented each evening at 7.30 in the Nexus Theatre in the grounds of Murdoch University until Saturday 6th November.

Sadly, this cast The Murdoch Performing Group, are the final year students of the Course’s concluding year. I am gob-smacked at this unhappy ending. Murdoch has two very well-equipped theatres, kilometres of enthusiastic potential students lining up for a place on the courses – most tragic. With Dr Melissa Merchant and her staff of experts, all highly respected by their peers, along with their many decades of experience and theatrical PhDs everywhere. A truly superb course about to be lost to WA.

The Scene:           August 1935 in London and the highlands of Scotland. The opening scene is Richard Hannay’s apartment, across the road from Broadcasting House in central London. The play has 31 scenes, sounds horrendous but the cast carry out any set and prop changes in seconds, so the incredibly fast flow of the play does not hesitate for a second.

The set:                A 4 x 6 metre screen at the rear of the stage shows videos (AV by Tim Brain) of Scotland, aerial shots, and domestic views. Thanks to theatre manager Tim Brain and senior technician, John King for the props, furnishings, and smoke machine.

There are a couple of ‘mobile’ doors, a sash-window with venetian blinds, and masses of stylish gadgets. The whole effect is carried off by well-chosen furniture and some ingenious props (Alex Banham and Tyler Jacob Jones). The décor being painted by Allison Snell.

Lighting Design:                by John King and operated by Jay Covich. The impressive lighting effects included the initial street scene, and the door leading to the Scottish ballroom.

Sound:                  Allanah Speyers, numerous crips effects with precise timing synchronised with the lighting.

Stage manager:                 Jessica McNab was well organised and had the set shifting flawlessly rehearsed.

One night in the theatre, businessman, Richard Hannay (Brandon de Sousa) is enjoying the banter between the glamourous compere (Carmen Greyvenstein) and the talented Mr Memory (Michael Zanki Martin) who knows decades of facts. After the show Hannay meets a beautiful woman, Annabella Schmidt (Carmel Fox) who appears to be an international spy looking for somewhere to hide from the ’39 steps’, and to find her way to Alt na Schullen.

When Hannay ends up with a dead body in his flat he finds himself at Kings Cross station, on the run. Chief inspector Albright (Holly Stancombe) is searching for him. The newspapers have his picture on the front page and the radio announcer (Oscar Sheil) is warning everyone about this dangerous killer.

Hannay heads for Edinburgh on the train. When the police on the train approach his compartment, he climbs out of the train carriage. Will he survive a fall from the Forth Rail Bridge?

Alex Banham and Tiffany Banner’s costumes were numerous and capable of rapid change. The variety in dress ranged from air pilots to a paperboy, evening wear and plenty of police uniforms; all helping to give instant recognition of the characters being portrayed in the hundred brief cameos.

Stage combat and bodily interaction (this is not ‘inappropriate’) was taught by Nastassja Kruger and Andy Fraser. Additional advanced tuition for the cast in comedy acting and presentation was by Dr Stephen Platt.

However, it is director Tyler Jacob Jones who should be lauded; he has every actor playing several parts, yet despite their costume transformations, accents changes and physical demeanour, the show belted along with the laughs coming thick and fast. Tyler never missed an opportunity to get that little extra into each scene. The expressions, the intentional ham acting all enacted with perfect chemistry. Often chaotic scenes do not work, simply because they are chaotic. True stage chaos should be well researched, finely directed and with everyone knowing precisely what unruliness is to follow. Clever direction, like using the room’s standard lamp as the streetlamp, having all the train passengers shaking with the train’s rumbling, then falling as the train lurches. Passengers holding on as the wind whistles through the compartments when Hannay leaps out of the train. A great deal intricate thought and imagination lifted this play to a special level.

Yes, the whole cast and the behind-the-scenes troupe have ensured that this final (?) offering at Murdoch is of supreme quality. They leave with pride at the acting and teamwork on a memorable production.