The 39 Steps | Review

The Lyric Theatre • 31 March ’16

By Conor O’Neill

FOUR actors playing 139 roles, Holy French Collection UK Batman, this should be interesting. Bruiser Theatre Company teams up with the Lyric Theatre to produce John Buchan and Alfred Hitchcock’s rendition of the classic The 39 Steps. And what a job they’ve pulled off. As all 360 bums sit on the Lyric’s Danske Bank’s 360 seats, we just wanna know what the fudge is the 39 Steps?

With a montage of characters, scenes from Egypt to Edinburgh, Montreal, London and everywhere in between, we follow the masquerades and guises and lying disguises of Richard Hannay, played by Michael Johnston, the only actor not having to head to the head to costume design Susan Scott’s cleverly created and easily adapted tapestry of wigs, dresses and correctly impressive clothes of 1935.

Two things you should know about this play. Number One: expect one-liners that’ll hurt your ribs for an hour after the show. Number Two: Surprise yourself with the dying art of soliloquies thumped and trumped, head-butted and slapped back to life. Match those with the slap-stick ensemble style of director Lisa May’s sharp, shape of combustible set changes and beautiful choreography which make this play so seemingly honest.

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It’s 1935, the war is looming, spies are everywhere, no one has the ambition or belief in trust. From a London murder to the Highlands of Scotland everyone fears a foreigner, friend or foe. The cast do a brilliant job flipping from character to character in a heartbeat. Besides the main man Michael Johnston’s Hannay, the other two males are Michael Condron and Liam Jeavons. This pair make so many costume, characters and other metamorphoses, they will probably lose several pounds a day simply for their activity. From a gun-wielding Scottish professor to paper boys, hoteliers and coppers, Condron and Jeavons will most certainly earn they pay-cheque when the run stops.

Of course where there’s murder, treachery, and testosterone there must be women involved. Hitchcock himself would surely tip his hat at Hannah Brackstone-Brown’s assured acting of three main characters, namely Annebella, Pamela and Margaret. Not only is she a brilliant actor, easy on the eye and smashing with accents ranging from American beau to London lady and a German, she’s also a gymnast. For maybe a minute and a half she lay stone still horizontal on the clowns’ backs. Herein lies the beauty of this piece – one minute you’re laughing, the next you’re wondering, next you’re tapping your feet to Matthew Reeves’s sparse yet inspired musical score.

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I’ve reviewed a Lisa May/Bruiser play before, but the past is the past and if you’re only as good as your current show, May, the Lyric, Bruiser and all the team behind and in front of this fab production are simply flying. Three curtain calls leave hands blistering at the last clap of the palm, a great play. Go see.

I’ve never had the pleasure of heading to London where this play, under different direction and actors have made this a hit for close to 30 years, but I’ll be damned if our neighbours across the Irish Sea put on a better show.

The 39 Steps runs in the Lyric Theatre from 29 March to 16 April; there’s also matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. For booking info visit www.lyrictheatre.co.uk or ring the box office on 02890 381081.

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Further reading: Interview with Michael Condron  / Interview with Susan Scott (Head of Costume Design)

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