Woy Woy Little Theatre is rounding off its Golden Jubilee with a golden oldie made new. Patrick Barlow’s Tony and Laurence Olivier award winning adaptation of The 39 Steps is a hilarious reworking of the original John Buchan novel and the 1935 Hitchcock movie classic. But there’s a twist: the movie’s original cast of over 140 characters is represented on stage by just four actors! Director Christine Vale can always be counted on to bring something fresh and compelling to the Peninsula, so I knew I would enjoy this play, but I didn’t anticipate how much. This is a true theatrical performance and one of the most creative, entertaining and hilarious pieces of theatre I have seen in a long time.
The play begins in a London flat where the hero, Richard Hannay, delivers a monologue at a sedate pace that allows the audience to get to know the character. Hannay is the anchor around which the rest of the mad-cap romp takes place, and actor Martin-John Pemberton takes time to establish his character and enjoy the texture, physicality and dry humour of the role. His exit as he leaves for the theatre is the first hint to the audience that all is not as they might expect and, from there, all hell begins to break loose as the plot follows Hannay from London to the Scottish moors and back again in an action-packed high speed adventure involving murder, mystery, mistaken identity, espionage, and running from the police while trying to catch the bad guys and save the day for King and Country.
Caitlin Shaw plays Hannay’s love interest (all three of her), while Duncan Piney and Paul Russell make up the rest of the characters (I lost count of how many). Policemen, spies, Nazi villains, jealous husbands, socialite wives and numerous innocent bystanders were recreated by this talented double act with the aid of a series of quick changes and costume effects and a variety of deft and diverse characterizations. The cast are to be congratulated for their performances-es-es-es . . . . . While scenery was kept to a minimum, such as there was, was as much a part of the performance as the actors, and with the creative use of a selection of simple props, the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster plays out in the 50 square metres of the Peninsula stage. Christine describes the challenge of bringing this innovative show to Woy Woy: “aside from following the script there are few rules with this play. It is really open to what the creative team, cast and crew can make of it. It has been an exciting challenge and so much fun.” She and assistant director, Nigel Stanley, know how to use effective staging to make the most of the Peninsula’s unusual theatrical space. “Nigel has been brimming with creative ideas as Assistant Director, part-time prop builder, map-maker and more.” This is the kind of show in which every element of theatre – performance, staging, scenery, props, costume, sound and lighting – plays a vital role in telling the story, and every member of the WWLT team deserve to be congratulated for their part in making this show such a success.
The 39 Steps closes next weekend and tickets are selling fast, so book now and make sure you don’t miss out! Book online at www.laycockstreettheatre.com or call 4323 3233. WWLT Box Office is open 10-12 noon Mon, Wed, Fri, 4344 4737. Tickets are Adult $25 I Concession $23 I Child $7. [Image courtesy of WWLT publicity]