Review: The 39 Steps. Sharnbrook Mill Theatre.

Still riding high from their fantastic production of ‘The Last Five Years’ in April, the Sharnbrook Mill Theatre have been busy creating another great show. Playing until Saturday this week, ‘The 39 Steps’ is a daft and funny romp that parodies the Hitchcockian spy thrillers of the 1930s and 40s. Based mainly on the 1935 film of the same name (and its 1915 source novel), and containing numerous allusions and references to other legendary Hitchcock films, the multi award-winning comedy by Patrick Barlow spoofs the conventions of the genre with its tongue firmly in its cheek. 

It tells the story of Richard Hannay, an unsuspecting man bored of his unfulfilled life in 1930s London, who goes on the run after being mistakenly accused of murder. He discovers he’s now unwittingly part of a secret mission to stop an organisation known as ‘The 39 Steps’ from stealing military secrets. His adventure takes him from London to the Scottish Highlands, as he tries to dodge the bad guys and clear his name.

Thanks to its broad and deliberately-silly style, The 39 Steps’ is a play that naturally lends itself to Amateur Dramatics, and the Sharnbrook Mill Theatre cast run with it with glee. That’s not to say the performances are bad, in fact quite the reverse; the four leads give near-professional-level performances, demonstrating great comedy timing and really delivering the laughs. Tim Jackson-Waite makes a great lead as Richard Hannay, playing up the “posh pompous buffoon on the run” brilliantly and completely embodying the character. Kaye Vincent also does well as Pamela, having great chemistry with Jackson-Waite as the archetypal ‘icy cool blonde’ that Hitchcock loved so much. And special mention must also go to David Mander and Alan Galway, a fantastic comedy duo who play a multitude of roles between them, sometimes even in the same scene with a lightning-quick change of accent and wardrobe (even gender). They are hugely entertaining and really elevate the production to another level.

Director Susan Moore uses the Mill space cleverly, and manages to recreate the story’s more dramatic scenes (car and airplane chases, bridge fights) with real inventiveness, while also making it funny. The tone stays purposefully daft throughout, knowingly overblown and farcical, and it really works. Like most shows in this style, the show does start to run out of steam in the second half, with some scenes not quite hitting the mark (the scene with the slow-moving old men will either tickle your funny bone or test your patience). 

Sharnbrook Mill Theatre have another great production under their belts, and should be really proud of what they’ve achieved here. Farce will never be to everyone’s taste, but ‘The 39 Steps’ is a delightfully daft dose of joy that we all need right now. A clever comedy delivered inventively, and with an obvious love for the material by its cast, ‘The 39 Steps’ is a guaranteed giggle.

‘The 39 Steps’ runs at the Sharnbrook Mill Theatre until Saturday 18th June 2022

Performance runtime 2 hours 20 minutes including interval

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