Review: THE 39 STEPS

by Lynn on August 5, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont.

Adapted by Patrick Barlow
From the novel by John Buchan
From the movie by Alfred Hitchcock
Directed by Ravi Jain
Set by Ken MacKenzie
Costumes by Jackie Chu
Lighting by André du Toit
Sound by Verne Good
Cast: Kawa Ada
Raquel Duffy
Anand Rajaram
Andrew Shaver

Bend-over hilarious. Beautifully directed by Ravi Jain and acted by his golden company of four.

The Story. Richard Hannay is our dashing, bored hero. He has just returned to London from travels. He goes to the theatre for amusement and to try and relieve his boredom. An attractive woman named Annabella Schmidt, sidles up to him and sits beside him in his side-box seat. She then fires a gun into the audience causing a commotion and then asks if she can go home with him. Being the gentleman that he is, Hannay agrees.

What follows is intrigue, mystery, the makings of a political, spy thriller with thugs dogging Hannay’s every movement. Why is no one dogging Ms Schmidt you might ask? She was stabbed in the back, in the night, in his apartment. Hannay tries to solve who killed her and who is chasing him and why.

The Production. Think about it. The 39 Steps as a comedy of the Hitchcock thriller? A gut-busting comedy thanks to the cast and their brilliant director, Ravi Jain.

Patrick Barlow adapted the play from a novel by John Buchan and the movie by Alfred Hitchcock. It seems like it’s a cast of thousands and they are all played by four actors. Three actors play multiple parts except Kawa Ada who plays only Richard Hannay.

But it’s grueling. He has to run away from thugs. He has to climb outside a speeding train. He has to escape being handcuffed to a lovely woman. So he has his hands full—I speak of the supremely gifted Kawa Ada and just playing one part.

But the others are a different matter. Raquel Duffy plays three alluring, vamping women and she does it with supreme style. But there are two roles called Clown 1 and Clown 2.

It seems they play 100 parts between them, sometimes playing three parts in the same scene. I exaggerate but the quick changes between characters is jaw-dropping.

Clown 1 is played by Andrew Shaver, who plays an alluring woman, a shaky memory expert, a dim Scottish hotel clerk, and gruff outdoorsman and all manner of other characters.

He is ably matched by Anand Rajaram as Clown 2 who is a train conductor, a kilt-wearing police officer, a strange professor, and a man who looses it in the balcony. Both Shaver and Rajaram are two consummate comedic actors who are like a volcano of invention.

Guiding the mayhem with a sure, funny hand is Ravi Jain. Every moment is full of comedic invention. The simple matter of pulling up blinds is hilarious. To suggest climbing outside a speeding train, the actors flip their coat tails frantically to suggest the speed and wind of the travel as they cling on to the barest of ledges. Characters change hats in scenes suggesting there are more than three people in the train compartment.

Ravi Jain has a keen sense of comedy and how to realize it. The result is a riot of laughter. I must say that occasionally he seemed to allow his clowns to riff at will. In one instance Anand Rajaram plays a crazed man in the theatre, in a side-box and he seems to ad lib in an extended speech. I think it goes on too long and over plays its effectiveness.

But it is fascinating watching Raquel Duffy playing a character looking on from another side-box across the stage, watching this going on and not flinching or breaking her seriousness—and she came close at least once. That’s a quibble.

Comment. There is a serious bit to this evening. Hannay longs for peace and quiet without violence etc. He is wistful but Ravi Jain takes this seriously as he notes in the program. We are living in angry, violent times and he decided because of that there would be no guns in the production, just characters aiming their fingers. There would be the sound of mild gunfire, but no guns. It worked. We bought into it.

The 39 Steps is a terrific production starring four consummate actors. I recommend this one without reservation.

Soulpepper Presents:

Opened: Aug. 3, 2016.
Closes: Aug. 27, 2016.
Cast: 4; 3 men, 1 woman.
Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

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