Review: The 39 Steps

by Lynn on August 3, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person, produced by The County Stage Company at the Eddie Hotel and Farm in Prince Edward County, 15786 Loyalist Parkway, Bloomfield, Ont. Playing until Aug. 6, 2023.

Adapted and written by Patrick Barlow

From the original novel by John Buchan

Directed by Monica Dottor

Set by Steve Lucas

Costumes by Lindsay Forde

Lighting by Kristen Leboeuf

Sound by Rebecca Everett

Cast: Helen Belay

Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster

Brandon McGibbon

Courtenay Stevens

Warning! Alfred Hitchcock directed a taut spy murder thriller called The 39 Steps in 1935. The version at the County Stage Company is nothing like that. While this version of The 39 Steps is loosely based on the original story, Patrick Barlow has adapted it and written it as a fast-paced-farce-full-blown-comedy. There is still murder. But it’s funny.

The Story. Richard Hannay is our dashing hero. He has just returned to London from travels and he’s bored. He decides to do something that is utterly frivolous, useless and nonsensical—outdoor theatre in the country. 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. She then fires a gun into the air 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. In truth, all sorts of people are chasing Hannay because they believe he killed Annabella. She knew that there was skullduggery afoot that involved highly sensitive secret information that someone wanted to overthrow the government. Hannay tries to find out who had the information and who was trying to steal it.

The Production. 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 hundreds and some sheep.  They are all played by four gifted actors: Helen Belay, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Courtenay Stevens and Brandon McGibbon.  Helen Belay, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster and Courtenay Stevens play multiple parts. Brandon McGibbon plays only Richard Hannay. But has to run away from thugs, climb outside a speeding train, escape being handcuffed to a lovely woman, almost fold his tall body into a small trunk, and look dashing in the process and with aplomb. It’s true he has a plethora of partially placed mustaches, but the result is hilarious.

The other actors are equally accomplished.  Courtney Ch-ng Lancaster plays the mysterious and sophisticated Annabelle Schmidt, sweet and Scottish Margaret, and confident and compelling Pamela. and she does it all with supreme style, detail, nuance and a keen sense of the humour, as do they all. There are two Clown roles played by Helen Belay and Courtenay Stevens. It seems they play 300 parts between them, sometimes playing three parts in the same scene. I exaggerate but the quick changes between characters is impressive. Lots of business with changing hats which changes the characters before your very eye-balls.

As one Clown, Helen Belay plays a shaky memory expert, various policemen with varying accents and all manner of other characters and those sheep.

She is ably matched by Courtenay Stevens as the other clown who is a train conductor, a strange professor and various other characters as well. Both Belay and Stevens are two consummate comedic actors with talent for both the physical agility and that serious-faced ability to float a joke.

Guiding the frivolity with a sure, funny hand is director Monica Dottor. She is also a gifted choreographer, so she knows how to create both the visual and literal joke with finesse and grace.  Every moment is full of comedic invention. The simple matter of walking or standing outside a speeding train on the thinnest of ledges, complete with flipping out a coat tail, is done with style. Sure, we’ve seen this mimed before. This is done with a flourish. I would see anything directed by Monica Dottor. These four actors had me there at ‘hello.’  

Steve Lucas has created a wonderful set that changes with a push of a wall before our eyes, letting us into the wonder of doing theatre, under a tent in a field in idyllic surroundings. The costumes by Lindsay Forde are smart and stylish. For the Clowns alone they look like both pajamas and smart suits, certainly not the obvious for Clowns.

Comment. Richard Hannay got his wish…to do something silly, frivolous and irreverent—theatre outdoors. One embraces the adventure of such a venture, willingly.

Warning! The play takes place outdoors in the idyllic setting of The Eddie Hotel and farm. Bug spray is provided although the bugs get nasty around 9 pm, the show is over before then. Quite considerate of the company to arrange that.  

Produced by Country Stage Company

Plays until Aug. 6, 2023.

Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes. (a small intermission)

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.