The QT

Tuesday 18 June 2024

Review: The 39 Steps at Newcastle Theatre Royal

Alison Carr reports back from a caper and fun-filled night on Tyneside
The 39 Steps – Tom Byrne, ©Mark Senior

When we meet our handsome hero Richard Hanney (Tom Bryne), he’s restless and looking for adventure.

And in a classic case of ‘be careful what you wish for’, that’s exactly what he gets when glamorous stranger Annabella (Safeena Ladha) is murdered in his London flat.

Annabella happens to be a spy on the run (what are the chances, eh), so Hanney finds himself suddenly embroiled in international espionage.

Fleeing to the Scottish Highlands, an adventure ensues which finds Richard dangling from the Forth Bridge, assuming false identities, and dodging the villains at every turn.

With only his pluck and his pipe, can Richard clear his name, get the girl, and save the country?!  

This light-hearted adaptation by Patrick Barlow from Hitchcock’s 1935 spy thriller (itself based on the 1915 novel by John Buchan) has been around for nearly 20 years, racking up awards and West End and Broadway runs along the way.

But its particular brand of silliness never goes out of fashion, a sort of DIY hockiness which sees doorways on wheels being pushed around, plenty of running on the spot, dummies, and lots and lots of hats.

It’s all very inventive, a particular highlight being a shadow puppet chase scene.

Bryne is perfect as the charming Englishman with the stiffest of upper lips who lurches from one whacky set piece to the next.

Safeena Ladha pops up along the way as the unfortunate Annabella, wide-eyed farmer’s wife Margaret, and Hitchcockian blonde Pamela.

The bumpf tells me that the four actors play 139 roles in the play’s 100 minutes.

Tom Byrne in The 39 Steps © Mark Senior

Most of this multi-rolling falls to Eugene McCoy and Maddie Rice as Clown 1 and Clown 2.

Sometimes they play different characters in the same scene, and at least once Rice plays both sides of one conversation.

It’s amazing what a change of hat can do.

They also pop up as a river, bog, and bushes.

They’re both on the go for the whole thing, and their physicality and speed are impressive.

The aforementioned bumpf also tells me that Rice is the first female performer to play one of the Clowns, and all I can ask is what took them so long?

The 39 Steps is silly, fun and funny – a very British spy adventure, told with a glint in the eye and lots of daft imagination.

See how many Hitchcock references you can spot – and keep your eyes peeled for the man himself!

The 39 Steps plays Newcastle Theatre Royal until Saturday (April 13). For tickets, contact the box office on 0191 232 7010 or visit the website.


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