The 39 Steps / The Nuffield 7 may 2016

on May8 2016

Non-Naturalistic heaven

The 39 Steps is a fast-paced, intense show which featured tremendous non-naturalistic techniques. The story follows the Hitchcock film telling the tale of Richard Hannay and the events which unfold after watching Mr Memory’s show (murder, chases, romance, baddies and denouement).

I love this type of theatre with extreme multi-role. It keeps the audience on its toes and allows actors to show off their full repertoire.


The highlights for me were definitely the techniques employed. First off, the body language was superb. There was not one movement which wasn’t needed. Even the actors’ knees were employed as character accessories. Seriously, the precision of this piece was extraordinary. But where the real fun began was in throwing Stanislvansky out the door.

How do you stage a theatre, train carriages, train rooftops, moorland, aeroplane chase, car chase, railway bridge somersaults, living room, hotels and more? Simple, help the audience suspend belief at the outset, suck them in, and then let them bless you in delight as you employ coat shaking for wind, slow motion for fast speed chasing and French mime for carriages. If ever you need a technique for a scene, go see this show. There will be something in there that you can use.

The hero of the piece meets many women in his journeys and while the dialogue told one story the incredible physical subtext told another with a fluid dance, chest to chest mirroring, and a passion of positioning. I wish I had a picture to stick in here to describe this – but sadly I don’t and have to resort to purple prose. It was delicious and all delivered with a sense of extreme fun.

Transport fun

A train was created with a few old trunks as seats – the characters bobbing up and down – and its roof chase with more wind effects, slow motion and double pointing. As for the aeroplane scene? That was puppetry combined with teasing perspective. I can’t even begin to explain the doors opening, a quick turn, and characters entrances. All of it was a charm.

Which was lucky, as the billed comic nature of the script didn’t entice me. An over reliance on gags around props not being ready wore thin, and although we were told several times about the devilishly handsome nature of the lead’s moustache I like to leave a joke at its first telling. The acting was brilliantly physical, but I struggled to understand some of the vocal work, particularly the various nationalities of the string of international women (she was awesome as an old fashioned heroine in peril).

Overall, my verdict was that this was a triumph of physicality and staging, thoroughly enjoyable. My husband thought it was a bit like a pantomime. He doesn’t like those very much. But then, he did sleep through most of the second half.

Restricted viewing

And as for our seats? Restricted viewing actually meant restricted viewing in seats Q4/5 at The (otherwise awesome) Nuffield. We missed everything that was upstage left. Next time we’ll stand.

Tour dates

Find out more about where the tour is going, and how many steps you need to climb, by visiting the official site.




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