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The 39 Steps - Wildfire Lounge (NSW)

Presented by Blinking Light Theatre. Adapted by Patrick Barlow, from the novel by John Buchan. Directed by Dany Akbar.

 

Reviewed by Justin Clarke

Wildfire Lounge, Glebe

Dates: Until 15th of March, 2024


Madcap tomfoolery awaits within the intimate Wildfire Lounge with the hilarious 39 Steps. What could have been an uproarious show is instead played relatively safe.

 

Loved by professional, community and amateur production companies worldwide, Patrick Barlow’s adaptation of John Buchan’s The 39 Steps has taken a multitude of shapes and forms throughout the years. Most notable is the 1935 film by Alfred Hitchcock starring Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll of which Barlow parodies. Blinking Light theatre company, who focus on promoting environmentally sustainable and immersive theatre, now invite audiences to descend ten (or so) steps to immerse yourself in the suitably silly and outrageous production of The 39 Steps right in the heart of Sydney’s independent theatre scene.

 

Framed for a murder he didn’t commit, Richard Hanney (David Halgren) is thrust quite rudely out of his mundane, yet lavish existence and quickly finds himself on the run. Encountering a myriad of femme fatales along the way (played by Izabella Louk), Hanney finds himself leaving behind the hustle and bustle of London for the rather soggy moors of Scotland and smack dab in the middle of a murderous spy ring conspiracy.


Blinking Light's Production of The 39 Steps. Images by Troy Kent

 

After being readapted from its 1996 version in 2005 and premiering on the West End, the play harnesses the comedic skills of four actors, two of which, the “clowns” take on board the heft of the show’s main characters. This ultimately requires the chosen actors to do a majority of the comedic heavy lifting. Luckily, director Dany Akbar has this in spades in the safe (or rather bumbling) hands of Ellen Coote and Sophie Douglas.

 

Together Coote and Douglas swap hats, roles, canes and coats to take on absurdly gesticulating police officers, ludicrously thick-accented Scottish homeowners, mad-cap stage performers, and creepily winking pun-filled strangers on a train. Douglas’ eyebrows near disappear into her hairline as she uses every facial muscle imaginable to bring hilarity and a sense of absurd comedy to her characters. Similarly, Coote’s broad Cheshire Cat styled smile plays off Douglas’ comic timing well, as Coote uses a keen sense of comedic prowess to land hilarious punchlines.

 

Halgren artfully leads the show as the thick-accented Hanney, capturing a 1930’s British upper-class twang with ease. Showing a swift ability to flicker in and out of the situations Hanney finds himself in, Halgren bounces off his cast members as a leading man worthy of the Hitchcock parody. Throughout the madcap tomfoolery, Louk’s many roles as possible love interests complement Halgren’s Hitchcockian leading man status, but we are left with a sense of yearning for more meaty comic elements for her to chew on.

 

Where the success of The 39 Steps lies is in its intense absurdity, and requires a vision that fits the stage it’s configured in. On a large West End stage, with plenty of space and whizzbang features, the artistic team can afford to play the show straight, relying on the script and character-swapping within to bring the main laughs. In the much more intimate theatre of the Wildfire Lounge however, Akbar misses an opportunity to play around with the space and world of The 39 Steps for his cast as well as his audience.


...audiences are left with wide smiles on their faces and a kick in their step from an evening of giddy, silly and joyful theatre.

 

As the curtain rises, Halgren’s Hanney struggles to uncap a bottle of whiskey to drink, while a curtain fails to fully open at different points in the show, setting up a premise of a Play That Goes Wrong style of slapstick comedy. This opportunity, however, doesn’t come to fruition and instead the rest of the show is played quite safe. With such a small setting for such a madcap romp, there was ample room for play to be had in reaching the dizzying heights of comedy the script can expel.

 

Moments of tension come in outrageous reveals of cunning and Dr. Evil-esque villainy, with gasps and guffaws heard from the audience. But other moments seem to fall flat due to a lack of urgency and speed that the show requires. That’s not to say the show was without its energy as the cast brought this in bucketloads, but the speed at which the energy was delivered could have been further refined.

 

As the inevitable 1930’s finale draws the play to a close and the newly refined leading man and love interest lock lips, audiences are left with wide smiles on their faces and a kick in their step from an evening of giddy, silly and joyful theatre. It’s not the most risk-taking piece of theatre around in Sydney today, but it is nonetheless filled with entertainment.


 

THE 39 STEPS

An amateur production by arrangement with ORiGiNTM Theatrical, on behalf of Samuel French Inc. - A Concord Theatricals Company.


DATES: 6th of March - 15th of March, 2024.

TIMES: Tuesdays-Thursdays 7:30pm; Fridays 6pm & 9pm.

LOCATION: Wildfire Lounge, Glebe.

TICKETS: 18-30s: $30 + venue fee, 30+: $50 + venue fee

AGE: Those under 18 are unable to be admitted to the theatre due to liquor licensing restrictions.

WRITER Adapted by Patrick Barlow, from the novel by John Buchan

DIRECTOR Dany Akbar

PRODUCER Izabella Louk

MOVEMENT DIRECTOR Emilia Higgs

COSTUME DESIGNER Suzanne Wilding-Hart

SOUND DESIGNER Akesiu Poitaha

LIGHTING DESIGNER Dany Akbar

INTIMACY DIRECTOR Amanda McGregor

DESIGN & BRANDING MANAGER Nicola Macindoe for Keeper Studio

STAGE MANAGER Radhika Lal

ASSISTANT PRODUCER & ASM Isabel Zakharova

STARRING Ellen Coote, Sophie Douglas, David Halgren, Izabella Louk

 

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