First a novel, then a movie, finally a spoof of both. John Buchan’s acclaimed 1915 spy story was made into an equally acclaimed suspense movie by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935. (John Buchan, Lord Tweedsmuir, a former Governor General of Canada, instituted the Governor General’s literary awards in 1940.)
Patrick Barlow’s 2005 comic adaptation of Buchan’s spy thriller tips the hat ironically at both genres. This version of The 39 Steps, while amusing and giving an almost frame-by-frame mocking tip of the hat to film noir, will not appeal to every taste. In the interests of full disclosure, I am one of those not thrilled by the style of comedy with its repetitive format and protracted jokes.
Nevertheless, such moments as escaping through very mobile window frames or dancing through assorted and equally mobile doorways are very funny. They are well executed in the effectively timed Kanata Theatre production, directed by Sandy Wynne.
Wynne and her cast and crew also deserve kudos for coping extremely well with a potential crisis when one cast member fell and broke his leg. Despite being confined to a wheelchair or crutches, Andrew Williams continues most of his role, while Paul Behncke stepped in at the last minute to pick up the more athletic segments, joining Mike Hammond, Allison Harris and Gordon Walls in multiple remaining roles.
Hammond is Richard Hannay, the man on the run, wrongly accused of murder. Because this is a spoof, it is difficult to know whether his over-pronounced English accent is intentional or accidental. Either way it is somewhat irritating.
Karl Wagner’s technical direction in this comedy so heavily dependent on accurate timing deserves to be recognized, as does Maxine Ball’s costume design.
In general, this production of The 39 Steps is entertaining and well presented. It is, however, a pity that Kanata Theatre so frequently chooses to present plays that have been locally produced just a couple of seasons earlier.
The 39 Steps continues at Kanata Theatre to September 28, 2013.
The 39 Steps
Adapted by Patrick Barlow
From the novel by John Buchan
Reviewed by Iris Winston
Director: Sandy Wynne
Technical director: Karl Wagner
Set: Dean Flockton
Lighting: Iain McCracken
Sound: Rob Fairbairn and Tracey Nash
Costumes: Maxine Ball
Richard Hannay………………………Mike Hammond
Annabella et al………………………..Allison Harris
Multiple characters……………………Paul Behncke, Gordon Walls, Andrew Williams