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The 39 Steps Review, Liverpool Playhouse Theatre

The 39 Steps has already received critical acclaim following its success on the West End, winning Best New Comedy at the Olivier awards alone. It’s not hard to see why.

With audiences flocking to see it in its current venue of the Liverpool Playhouse, The 39 Steps has been a sensation with audiences this season. Based on John Buchan’s 1915 spy thriller and adapted by Patrick Barlow, The 39 Steps is a comedy spoof on the original novel and (quite deliberately) the 1935 Hitchcock film, yielding hilarious results. With a cast of what the Playhouse website aptly describes as ‘four fearless actors playing 139 roles’ the production is both chaotic and highly polished at the same time.

The 39 Steps: A Plot Wrapped in Conspiracy

The plot revolves around Richard Hannay, a suave Brit (complete with pencil moustache) who finds himself tangled up in a sinister conspiracy which could lead to secret information being leaked to a sinister spy ring. Dugald Bruce-Lockhart plays Hannay (and only Hannay) with charm and stiff upper lip firmly in place, clearly revelling in his triumphant return to the Playhouse, where he has previously impressed in both The Taming of the Shrew and The Winter’s Tale with the all-male Shakespeare company Propeller. He seems to very much enjoy playing opposite an actual woman in this production, canoodling passionately with all three female roles Katherine Kingsley takes on.

Although Kingsley is the only female cast member in this production she more than stands her ground, performing admirably as the heavily accented German spy, the clipped Hitchcock-esque heroine and the timid Glaswegian housewife Hannay encounters on the run. Kingsley and Bruce-Lockhart share a wonderful chemistry, and are continually endearing throughout the whole production.

Talent and Creativity

Special mention however must go to Richard Braine and Dan Starkey, too highly talented actors who often appear as numerous roles in a single scene, simply swapping hats and coats to show the change in character. Starkey is as fearless as the website suggests, occasionally playing women very convincingly thanks partly to his small stature. The two actors are a comedy storm, bringing the house down particularly whenever a frustrated Hannay reigns them back in from getting too carried away.


What most impresses however is the truly wonderful set design by Peter McKintosh, lighting designer Ian Scott and sound designer Mic Pool. Though the set is simplistic, the direction by Maria Aitken allows the actors to replicate key moments from the Hitchcock film, such as the chase on the steam train and the infamous handcuff sequence seamlessly, appearing believable and hilarious at the same time. The ingenuity and creativity is astounding, especially when the scale of Hannay’s escape from the authorities in Scotland is depicted through the use of shadow puppets (including a knowing homage to Hitchcock’s film North by Northwest as light aircraft trails Hannay on the highlands).

A Festive Treat

The play is certainly a family treat, and the perfect way to while away a dark winter night. The addition of a festive ending, complete with Christmas tree and snow, was a nice touch, and definitely well received by the audience. It will be going on tour following the end of its run at the Playhouse, and the cast will no doubt receive the praise and plaudits they deserve from across the country. The 39 Steps is a comedy caper definitely not to be missed, old chap!

With audiences flocking to see it in its current venue of the Liverpool Playhouse, The 39 Steps has been a sensation with audiences this season. Based on John Buchan’s 1915 spy thriller and adapted by Patrick Barlow, The 39 Steps is a comedy spoof on the original novel and (quite deliberately) the 1935 Hitchcock film, yielding hilarious results. With a cast of what the Playhouse website aptly describes as ‘four fearless actors playing 139 roles’ the production is both chaotic and highly polished at the same time.

The 39 Steps: A Plot Wrapped in Conspiracy

The plot revolves around Richard Hannay, a suave Brit (complete with pencil moustache) who finds himself tangled up in a sinister conspiracy which could lead to secret information being leaked to a sinister spy ring. Dugald Bruce-Lockhart plays Hannay (and only Hannay) with charm and stiff upper lip firmly in place, clearly revelling in his triumphant return to the Playhouse, where he has previously impressed in both The Taming of the Shrew and The Winter’s Tale with the all-male Shakespeare company Propeller. He seems to very much enjoy playing opposite an actual woman in this production, canoodling passionately with all three female roles Katherine Kingsley takes on.

Although Kingsley is the only female cast member in this production she more than stands her ground, performing admirably as the heavily accented German spy, the clipped Hitchcock-esque heroine and the timid Glaswegian housewife Hannay encounters on the run. Kingsley and Bruce-Lockhart share a wonderful chemistry, and are continually endearing throughout the whole production.

Talent and Creativity

Special mention however must go to Richard Braine and Dan Starkey, too highly talented actors who often appear as numerous roles in a single scene, simply swapping hats and coats to show the change in character. Starkey is as fearless as the website suggests, occasionally playing women very convincingly thanks partly to his small stature. The two actors are a comedy storm, bringing the house down particularly whenever a frustrated Hannay reigns them back in from getting too carried away.

What most impresses however is the truly wonderful set design by Peter McKintosh, lighting designer Ian Scott and sound designer Mic Pool. Though the set is simplistic, the direction by Maria Aitken allows the actors to replicate key moments from the Hitchcock film, such as the chase on the steam train and the infamous handcuff sequence seamlessly, appearing believable and hilarious at the same time. The ingenuity and creativity is astounding, especially when the scale of Hannay’s escape from the authorities in Scotland is depicted through the use of shadow puppets (including a knowing homage to Hitchcock’s film North by Northwest as light aircraft trails Hannay on the highlands).

A Festive Treat

The play is certainly a family treat, and the perfect way to while away a dark winter night. The addition of a festive ending, complete with Christmas tree and snow, was a nice touch, and definitely well received by the audience. It will be going on tour following the end of its run at the Playhouse, and the cast will no doubt receive the praise and plaudits they deserve from across the country. The 39 Steps is a comedy caper definitely not to be missed, old chap!

The 39 Steps has already received critical acclaim following its success on the West End, winning Best New Comedy at the Olivier awards alone. It's not hard to see why. With audiences flocking to see it in its current venue of the Liverpool Playhouse, The 39 Steps has been a sensation with audiences this season. Based on John Buchan’s 1915 spy thriller and adapted by Patrick Barlow, The 39 Steps is a comedy spoof on the original novel and (quite deliberately) the 1935 Hitchcock film, yielding hilarious results. With a cast of what the Playhouse website aptly describes as ‘four…

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