‘THE 39 Steps’ by John Buchan is a book that deserves, more than most, the description ‘a rattling good yarn’. But a bundle of laughs it ain’t.
Patrick Barlow’s adaptation keeps the basic plot but turns it into the most hilarious comedy.
And laughs there were by the barrowload in Monday’s first night performance, with even the most commonplace aside capable of setting up a punchline. Those of us of a certain age who remember tuning in to ‘I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again’ on the radio 40-odd years ago would recognise the non-stop barrage of wit, but with the added benefit of visual gags.
The four principles are the unflappable Alan Christison as Richard Hannay, Pam Ruxton as three characters, Cliff Cuthbertson as another, oh, six or seven – and Mark Masson as most of the others. In fact, so many parts did Mark play, there was one point where, as he changed clothing and kept talking, I am quite certain that he was three people all at once.
The plot has the murder in Hannay’s London flat, the secret information he has gained that sends him to Scotland while trying to evade arrest, the drama on the Forth Bridge, his adventures in getting to and from that remote Scottish place whose pronunciation seems to involve unleashing rather a lot of saliva, and his ultimate exoneration.
This involves, among others, Hannay’s attempts to get up from his armchair after a dead women falls across his lap; a rather effeminate policeman whose tracker dog is a poodle; two centenarians (at least) conducting an election meeting, a police car being held up by several Sean the Sheep, an elderly Scot with eyebrows that occupy most of his upper face, and ‘Margaret’ removing her stockings while Hannay is handcuffed to her.
Six other performers – ‘Mime Clowns’ - play bit parts and shift scenery, or in some cases hold window frames in place. They are Caroline Pennant Jones, Dave Ferguson, Laura Adam, Linda Patterson, Linsey McDonald and Pat McInroy who, it should be said, played the role of a doorbell most charmingly.
The audience loved it, I loved it, and I believe that everyone who sees it will love it. Dialogue is timed to perfection by performers who know their craft inside out.
Hearty congratulations also to producer Anne Smith, who clearly believes in letting her cast act with their faces as well as their voices and their feet.
Lighting and sound are by Stephen Gilbert and Kaileigh Clark; set preparation by Dave Ferguson, Ian Anderson, Jim Jamieson, Duncan Reid, Bob Johnston and Ginni; and painting by Caroline Pennant Jones and Dorothy Parfitt. Costumes are by Lynn McNairn and special props by Jean Henderson.
Make-up is by Marie Baker, aircraft (sorry, forgot to mention the aircraft) by Ian Hotson, catering by theatre members and front of house by Bob Sawley and theatre members.
The programme acknowledges help from Christ Craft Blinds of Brechin.
Well worth a look is the exhibition of excellent paintings in the upper lounge, by Annette Thompson and Pat Stewart.
The next two-week production at the Abbey Theatre will be ‘The Haunting of Hill House’, adapted from Shirley Jackson’s novel by Andrew Leslie and produced by Cath Eddie. It will run from June 13 to 25.