Do thrillers need to be sombre and serious to be entertaining? Can a story of danger and madness be a frolic, too?
The 39 Steps is a madcap, action-packed, and hilarious spin on the classic 30’s spy thriller. The show uses deliciously over-the-top clichés of the film noir genre. It’s a spoof that never fails to wink at itself. The plot and action move at dizzying speed. Using farce and vaudeville, a rich world of zany chaos and mayhem unfolds.
Set in London, 1935, bored bachelor Richard Hannay (a wonderful Andrew Shaver) inadvertently becomes entangled in an espionage plot involving British military secrets. When he is falsely accused of murder, the bewildered man goes on the run. He makes his high-stakes getaway by train, by car, and even escapes from planes (à la Hitchcock’s North by Northwest; hint, hint). Along the crazy journey, he stumbles upon very eccentric characters, and villains, that he attempts to outsmart. The results are hysterical.
Remarkably, the large numbers of characters are played by four actors. Amelia Sargisson is delightful as she moves from femme fatale to innocent-yet-plucky bystander. She also has a piercing scream that is among the best I’ve heard on stage. Lucinda Davis and Trent Pardy carry the bulk of the remaining characters with boundless energy and sparkling wit. Everyone uses near-acrobatic versatility in the action scenes, especially the chases on the train. A big job yet the cast never lose the pace.
Michael Gianfrancesco’s sets are a character unto itself. The main set is a theatre with balconies. Doors and windows become comedy references as the characters confuse indoors/outdoors. Even the furniture becomes exposition for Hannay’s physical discomforts. Everything flies in and out but the setting is always clear.
The spy thriller is a genre that is rich with story ideas reflecting the latent fears of an era. While these narratives come from darkness, a little levity and light can bring a jolt of excitement. After all, how can anyone be bored with stories of murder, chases, and mad villains when accidental heroes crash in?
Photo credit: Andrée Lanthier
The 39 Steps: Presented by Centaur Theatre Company. Directed by Eda Holmes. Adapted by Patrick Barlow; based on Alfred Hitchcock’s film which was adapted from the novel by John Buchan. Show continues to December 10, 2017 at the Centaur Theatre, 453 St-François-Xavier, Old Montreal. For tickets call the box office at 514-288-3161 or go to www.centaurtheatre.com