With more puntastic one liners than the very best pantomime and enough references to Alfred Hitchcock’s other great works to keep the purists counting long into the show, The 39 Steps which is currently running at The Liverpool Playhouse, is a joy to watch and I urge to catch this particular visit before it leaves on Saturday.
Packed with 1930s film noir references and loosely based upon the movie that made the cinema world first take notice of the burgeoning British talent encased in the girth of Hitchcock back in 1935, The 39 Steps here is played strictly for laughs and played extremely well. It also helps that this time around – rather than that which visited in 2011 – it is a show that is faster, slicker and seemingly shorter than its previous incarnation and all the better for it.
What makes it work? Well, for a start off – and most notably – is an exemplary cast whose energy and enthusiasm for what they are doing on stage seeps from every pore. We as an audience get within seconds that they are all having a ball as much as we are watching them have a ball and so go with whatever they are doing, and rightly so.
With Richard Ede pulling off not only a fine dashing smile beneath his pencil moustache, the role is exemplified still further by his genius timing and facial nuances which never fail to hit the mark. As his femme fatale/s Pamela / Annabella / Margaret, Olivia Greene is exquisite as all three, yet still somehow manages to keep a straight, demure face throughout in true British stiff upper lip style.
And then there are Andrew Hodges and Rob Witcomb who play everyone and everything else, wheeling on props and changing costumes so rapidly it’s a wonder they don’t meet themselves coming backwards at times. All this and never once missing a beat of dialogue or action or interaction.
Yet if there is one true star of this production then it is Maria Aitken because without slick direction, superb eye for what works and – importantly how – then The 39 Steps could easily become a bit of a mess, which this is far from being.
Is a spoof comedy based upon one of the finest spy capers in Western twentieth century literature exactly what John Buchan had in mind when he published The 39 Steps in 1915? Probably not. Would he have approved of the out-and-out fun fest Fiery Edge, Tricycle London and The West Yorkshire Playhouse have created in honouring to his greatest work? Unquestionably and, indubitably, so will you.
The 39 Steps
Liverpool Playhouse Theatre
April 4 – April 9, 2016
Author: Patrick Barlow
Director: Maria Aitken
Cast: Richard Ede, Olivia Greene, Andrew Hodges, Rob Witcomb
Running Time: 1 hr 50 mins
PR Rating: **** Ripping Stuff