You’ve seen parodies, you’ve seen spy thrillers, you’ve seen it all, am I right? Well, no, I’m not, because while Studio Theatre Perth’s latest production, The 39 Steps has these elements, it takes them to a whole new level. How, you may ask? There’s nothing new under the sun, right? Maybe not, but this play does have aces up its sleeve that I bet you haven’t seen before. I won’t give it (all) away, but I will give you a very good idea of why you need to see this play. Let me explain.
The 39 Steps was originally a spy novel written in 1915 by John Buchan, who was, believe it or not, born in Perth – Scotland that is! And believe it or not again, was Governor General of Canada! As Word War I raged Buchan was interested in some serious themes, including the attractiveness of evil. A young Alfred Hitchcock took the story as his inspiration for his 1935 film of the same name, scant years before the world was embroiled in World War II.
OK, ok, you’re saying, I get the spy/thriller part, but this doesn’t sound funny at all. Don’t worry, it’s coming. In 2005 an English playwright, Patrick Barlow, borrowed a brilliant concept from two other Englishmen. The idea was to produce a play version with only four actors, two of whom played over a hundred roles. Now, having two actors constantly change roles is funny enough, but Barlow also adapted Hitchcock’s screenplay (although probably over 80% is exactly the same) to honour and parody Hitchcock and the genre of spy thrillers. He added a lot of references that will make you chuckle and transformed it by making a few actors try desperately to do the job of over a hundred.
Director Carolee Mason’s production notches things up. She has a cast of nine in order to maintain an inclusive community theatre vibe, but that’s still a fraction of the characters portrayed. With her talented and experienced cast, she boosts the theatricality and fun. She keeps the funny references to Hitchcock, adds more modern in-jokes, uses simple props to recreate what a feature film does, and shows off the ingenuity of the actors as they frantically change hats to do the work of a huge cast. Somehow the production honours the seriousness of the original novel, Hitchcock’s film, the power of live theatre, and the ability of comedy to tell deep truths. Yours truly has been involved in theatre for too long to admit, but I can truthfully say I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s very funny, honest, and brilliant – see it!
Catch The 39 Steps playing March 23, 24, 25, 20, 25, 30, 31 and April 1 at 7:30 p.m. and March 26 and April 2 starting at 2 p.m. Tickets are $24 and can be purchased through ticketsplease.ca or at the door on performance days. Youth tickets for those 17 and under are now half price.