The 39 Steps
The 39 Steps by John Buchan adapted for the stage by Patrick Barlow, with original music by Paul Grimwood. It was performed at Alleyns School, from 19th to 22nd April 2023
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Richard Hannay Chris Morphy-Godber
Mr McGarrigle/Heavy Ed Godfrey
Mr Memory /Dunwoody Stephen Dyer
Professor Jordan /
Mrs McGarrigle Alex Curran
Pamela/Milkman Chloe Couper
Heavy Charlotte Holmes
All other parts played by members of the cast
Technical Manager : Ian Jones
Stage Management - Severine Powell and Maddy Jones
Lighting - Anne-Lise Vassoille
Sound - Ben Lynch
Costumes - Jane Jones
Hair and Make-up - Denise Biffin
Prompt - Wendy Bailey
Poster Design - Clarisse Hassan
Set and Prop Construction - Ryan Harris; Elizabeth Holden, Roger Orr
Box Office - Georgina Hickleton
Front of House - Gill Daly
Assisted by - Members of the Society
I knew I was in for a jolly good evening the moment I stepped through the doors for the Dulwich Players’ production of The 39 Steps. The front of house team dressing in 1930s style, the tombola prizes all wrapped up in secretive brown paper, all of it meant the mood was thoroughly set by the time the audience sat down to enjoy the show. Congratulations to Gill Daly and her team for setting the tone so well.
Those who didn’t know the play might have been surprised to find the playfulness of the front of house mirrored on stage – rather than the thriller more may be familiar with from the film. But thought the tone may have been different, the plot is the same: Richard Hannay runs into a woman in London who turns out to be a spy and is inadvertently embroiled in a fiendish plot involving missiles and state secrets. Where the film leans into the drama, the play is a warm, funny love letter to the period, to the classic era of suspense films and to the potential – and limits – of theatre.
That sly sense of fun was evident throughout Jan Rae’s clever direction of the play, with the sparse set providing a multitude of locations, from a small London flat to the bleak Scottish Highlands. The stage management team (Severine Powell, Maddy Jones, Elizabeth Holden, Roger Orr and Ryan Harris) made some wonderful props to move the action along – with special mention to the movable lamppost (made by Ian Jones (ed.) In particular, I enjoyed the set transforming into vehicles, with both the car and train sequence zipping along nicely and providing a fair few laughs to boot. Given the sparsity of the set and the pace of the acting, the scene changes sometimes felt overly long and slowed down the momentum the actors had worked so hard to keep going. But this was easily forgivable as the action picked up nicely any time there was a lull between scenes. .
Chris Morphy-Godber made a very baffled but affable (baffable?) Hannay, and was a great straight man to the antics happening around him. He fit the 1930s setting perfectly, and his growing dismay at his circumstances was very entertaining to watch. I would have liked to have seen Chris go bigger on a couple of occasions where the audience is meant to be in on the joke – eg, the telephone ringing incorrectly, or using the pipe as the gun. Going a bit broader and leading the audience by the hand – as he did in other instances, such as getting rid of the human stile – would have made it clear that these were gags that it was ok to laugh at. But this is a very small note on a great performance.
The rest of the cast were clearly having a ball playing their myriad roles. Chloe Couper, Ed Godfrey, Charlotte Holmes, Alex Curran and Stephen Dyer gave each of their characters such defined accents, physicality and mannerisms that even having seen the programme, it was a surprise to see only six actors come out to receive their well-deserved applause at the end of the show. Clever hair, make-up and costumes, provided by Denise Biffin and Jane Jones, also made sure that each of the characters felt discrete and rounded (although I’m still on the fence about Pamela’s wig!)
The sound and effects were so good, they felt like a character of their own. Whether it was the Scottish mist, the dance party that came and went as the doors opened and shut or the police bearing down on poor Hannay, Ben Lynch’s sense of timing was perfect and added to the overall feel of the production which was well supported by Anne-Lisse Vassoilles’ lighting which added to the comedy and drama.
Everything the Dulwich Players put into this play was there to see in the theatre and on the stage – everyone involved should be very proud of what they managed to pull off. Nobody in the audience will need the recall skills of Mr Memory to remember this entertaining, energetic production.