Silver screen and stage satire meet with a bang in The 39 Steps

Culture Theatre

Blue Bridge’s re-adapted Hitchcock classicis a flight of farce for film and theatre buffs alike

Photo via Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre on Facebook

As the curtains go up at the Roxy, Alfred E. Hitchcock (Christopher Mackie), stage director and self-proclaimed great-nephew of the late Alfred Hitchcock, waddles on stage to the jaunty opening theme of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Bereft of his cast after a suspicious case of food poisoning at a local surf ’n’ turf joint (they surfed, he turfed), Mr. Hitchcock places an open call for actors. Three eager candidates emerge from the aisles, and a night of fast-paced parody begins.

The 39 Steps — Patrick Barlow’s tongue-in-cheek adaptation of John Buchan’s 1915 novel and Hitchcock’s 1935 thriller of the same name — is a flight of farce for four versatile players. Blue Bridge Repertory’s staging of the international hit tests the mettle of its skeleton crew as they stoop to shameless metatheatre and sappy romance. Riffing on signature Hitchcockian shadow-play and suspense, this performance climbs to new heights of absurdity.

Gabriel Macdonald soars as the incorrigible protagonist, Richard Hannay. With dark, curly hair, smoldering eyes, and the singing voice of a young Josh Groban, this debonair leading man brings all the airs of the 1930s silver screen to the stage. Rounding out Richard’s cynical edges with matchless allure, Amanda Lisman portrays the requisite blonde, brunette, and redheaded love interests. Femme fatale Annabella’s atrocious multinational accent and ludicrously melodramatic death throes make for prime comedy.

Christopher Mackie and Rod Peter Jr. give bravura performances as Clown 1 and Clown 2, who make up the play’s entire supporting cast. These two inhabit a plethora of characters, from a simultaneously sinister and bumbling duo of henchmen to the sax-playing host and sex-starved hostess of the McCorrigal Hotel, matching the action’s breakneck pace through deft quick changes. Special applause goes to the pair’s sleight of foot with the guestbook and to Mackie’s grandiloquent portrayal of the Professor.

With a hot pursuit above train tracks, a shadow puppet plane crash, and a wide array of inventive stagecraft, The 39 Steps is chock-full of action and artifice. Hans Saefkow’s modal set includes a sliding back wall of four panels that allows for an unexpected amount of stage space. And what the set lacks, the cast realizes: Hannay and his pursuers simulate wind by flapping their coattails as they brave the speeding train cars’ imagined roofs; the passengers hop in their seats as they traverse bumpy Scottish roads in the henchmen’s makeshift automobile (four chairs and a steering wheel); and the villain shouts “bang” in place of gunfire (incessantly).

Straight out of the Monty Python playbook, this uproarious experience stretches situational irony and repetition to the limit. From the increasingly absurd recurrence of the henchmen lingering menacingly beneath a streetlamp through the relentless and mistimed dramatic music cues, Richmond and crew take every gag several steps too far — and you’ll never laugh harder. Whether you are a Hitchcock buff, are a fan of Pythonesque humour, or simply enjoy a good dad joke, you should give The 39 Steps a watch.