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Review: The 39 Steps

(Photo: Erica Guy)
(Photo: Erica Guy)

The KTS’ third play of the season, Kate Jordan’s production of The 39 Steps moves away from serious drama and flies headlong into unapologetic slapstick comedy. The plot of the play – an adaptation of a Hitchcock movie which was itself an adaptation of a 1915 book by John Buchan – follows the misadventures of an English gentleman by the name of Richard Hannay (Brody Wilkinson-Martin) as he quickly gets embroiled in the affairs of Annabella Schmidt (Hannah Martin) in a sinister plot to steal British intelligence.
The play’s tone is light throughout, even at its darkest moments which include several murders. Perhaps its greatest draw is that its many, many characters are condensed into four roles, as the remainder of the comedy’s colorful cast are portrayed by the talented John Cavan and Geoff Myette. Even Martin herself changes roles more than once, adopting the personae of a repressed Scottish housewife named Margaret and an Englishwoman named Pamela over the course of Hannay’s journey.
(Photo: Erica Guy)
(Photo: Erica Guy)

Brody Wilkinson-Martin commands the stage from his first appearance as Hannay, exuding an air of practiced ennui that quickly evaporates into terror and eventually resolve as he grows into his position as a man on the run. Unlike the other members of the cast, he eschews an accent in favor of a more effected air that is quite charming to watch. He is also remarkably quick on his feet, and isn’t afraid to improvise in the case of unscripted events. Of the four, he is the only one to consistently play one character, and his ‘innocent everyman’ provides a great source of comedy when juxtaposed with the play’s melodrama.
(Photo: Erica Guy)
(Photo: Erica Guy)

Martin, Cavan, and Myette, by contrast, are delightfully hammy and varied in their performances. Jordan has picked a perfect trio of versatile actors, as they play hotel owners and police constables, train passengers and old matrons. Martin’s Scottish accent is impeccable, as is Cavan’s cockney twang. Myette and Cavan put new life into the phrase ‘at the drop of a hat’. All of these changes are also aided a great deal by a precise light and sound crew in the form of Charlotte Scromeda and Chris Tully.
One of the greatest things about The 39 Steps is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Jordan’s foreword heralds the play as a piece of “farcical creativity”, and the action does not disappoint. There is an abundance of physical comedy throughout, and is not afraid to delve into absurd scenarios. The play is also incredibly self-conscious to the point of parodying just about all of the typical noir tropes.
Even when moving around set pieces, there are laughs to be had, which keeps its numerous changes from becoming too awkward. The musical score anticipates and mocks the plot even as it happens, only further showcasing just how ridiculous the events of The 39 Steps are. Jordan’s direction certainly doesn’t shy away from the silliness, and the show is all that much more fulfilling as a result.

By David J. Shuman

David is a second-year journalism student at King's, is engagement/news editor of The Watch, and a copy editor of The Pigeon. He writes on student politics, campus happenings, and school news. 

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