“ The Criterion's stage adaptation of John Buchan's much loved (and frequently filmed) tale of double cross and daring do. „
When John Hannay returns to England, he gets more than he bargains for when a trip to the theatre turns into to a comedy tale of spies, murder, being on the run, to a final showdown back in the theatre where the tale started, you are guaranteed laughs by the bucketload with a sprinkling of espionage and mystery.
This production has been running at London's Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly Circus for many years now. I have seen it three times now and still enjoy it to this day. First off it's a lovely little theatre and have seen it from the stalls twice and the dress circle once, both offered great views. The theatre also added to the ambience of the scenes set in the theatre as the audience are made to feel part of the action.
The play is a mad dash from London to Scotland and back to solve the mystery of the 39 steps, I won't give too much away but what follows is a treat! There are four actors in the play, the actor who plays John Hannay threads the play together with his narrative style, the lady playing 3 female characters is great. But main praise from me goes to the two men playing characters called "Man" basically thy do everything, to becoming part of the scenery to playing a wealth of characters both male and female, sometime having to play multiple character simultaneously.
The staging is great with just a bare stage with props being used to great effect to create scenes or entirely different props.
There are good discounts to be had, I tend to use lastminute.com or go the the half price ticket booth (TKTS) in Leicester Square. The play lasts around 2hrs including a 20 min interval.
The 39 Steps, playing at the Criterion Theatre in London's West End, is a 2005 adaptation by Patrick Barlow of the famous John Buchan book of the same name, published in 1915. The play is heavily influenced though by the Alfred Hitchcock movie, which was released in 1935.
In the play there are several references to other Hitchcock films; including in the famous chase scene in which the bi-plane that searches for the lead character Richard Hannay is in fact the plane from North by Northwest! Alfred Hitchcock's famous silhouette also makes an appearance in the play.
Richard Hannay, having made a small fortune mining abroad, has returned to London circa 1914, though he has become thoroughly bored by city life. With time on his hands he wants to waste a few hours so he takes in a theatrical show. While at the theatre he meets a young woman who is embroiled in a plot involving spies, foreign governments and the threat of war breaking out across Europe. When the woman is killed he has only a few clues to lead him to the spies and the answer to the riddle, "What are the 39 steps?"
The Criterion Theatre Production
This play is a comedic look at the play, as opposed to the spy thriller made by Hitchcock or the later adaptations with Robert Powell or Kenneth More. It is influenced by Hitchcock's version more than the book, as it revisits key scenes from the film and retains the female character of Annabella Schmidt and Pamela, which are not in the book.
It is a four person play, with all the roles played by them during the two hour performance. The funniest scenes in the play show how the actors' versatility is stretched to great degrees as they have to swap hats, coats and other objects to change to and from characters within a single scene. The scene at the inn keeper's house and the train journey is particularly funny, as the actors move back and forth from different characters within seconds.
I have seen this play twice with my family and loved it every time. It is one of the funniest plays on in London at the moment and should be released on DVD, as it would be such a shame if it were forgotten. Every scene is explored for the comic potential, from the death scene of Annabella Schmidt to the climax based in the London Palladium. With funny use of props, sound affects, great character acting and a brilliant script, it is the deserved winner of the 2007 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy.
Without giving too much away, I laughed at every minute of this and would see it for a third time. It is suitable for the whole family and offers different thrills for children, adults and grandparents.
With ticket prices ranging from £12.50-45.00, there are also deductions for students or if you buy from a stall by the theatre. You will pay full price by booking online, so make sure you get them on the day and get a discount!
A couple of weeks ago my boyfriend decided to surprise me with tickets to the theatre. He didn't say which show or play it was going to be so I reeled off every show I wanted to see that was playing in London to see if I could work out what we were going to see.
But my boyfriend maintained it was to be a surprise so no matter how hard I guessed he was not telling me. However he did admit it was not Dirty Dancing as he thought I'd already seen it! Wrong! But that's now on the list for next time!
So Friday night came and we had a pre theatre dinner in Soho before heading to the theatre for the 8pm show. On route to the Criterion Theatre I was told we were going to see "The 39 Steps", which I must admit drew a complete blank from me. My boyfriend went on to explain it was a comedy based on Alfred Hitchcock's classic spy thriller, The 39 Steps. Sounded interesting I thought. Not quite the big name musical I was expecting, but I'm open to new experiences so was quite happy to go and see it.
Where is it showing?
The 39 Steps is showing at the Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly Circus in London. The Criterion Theatre has been open to audiences since 1874, with its first show being An American Lady. It's had a chequered history. It's been deemed unsafe and closed (1882 and again in 1989), renovated and refurbished and reopened (1884 and in 1992). Used a BBC studio during World War II, and been part of London's theatre history since it opened.
The Criterion Theatre seats circa 580, so a relatively small theatre, and is unusual in its style as the majority of the theatre is underground. So rather than going up to the dress circle you go down from the lobby.
There are 3 seating areas; Stalls (which is on the lowest level and has the most seats); Dress Circle (which is immediately above the Stalls, has less seats and you generally look slightly down on the stage) and finally the Upper Circle (which has a few seats and many seats have restricted views).
We had seats 16 and 17 in row C in the Dress Circle. Unfortunately we also had a pole in between us, which wasn't ideal and is not on the seating plans. Whilst the view of the stage was good, it was interrupted when the people in the row in front sat down and their heads slightly obscured our view. I think this is because the rows aren't raised enough in comparison to the rows in front, which is a little disappointing. My obscured view during the first half was annoying enough that during intermission we moved to the seats in the front row of the dress circle which no one was sitting in. Great view for the second half!! Also a word of warning to anyone who is tall. I'm only 5'4" and I found the legroom in this theatre tight!!
What is The 39 Steps about?
The show is actually an adaption of the novel The Thirty-Nine Steps by British author John Buchan, but heavily influenced by Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 film. It was made in to a comedy in 2006 by Patrick Barlow.
The Plot (I promise not to give too much away)
Set in the early 1900's the main character is Richard Hannay. The story is about the people Richard meet, his involvement in a murder, his paranoia that he is being followed by spies and is involved in a spy network. The play travels from London to Edinburgh and back to London.
In this version there are only 4 cast members, who play 139 roles!
John Hopkins who plays Richard Hannay and is present in nearly every scene.
Natalie Walter who plays all the female characters in the play
Stephen Crithclow and Stephen Ventura who play all the other characters.
What makes it a comedy?
What makes this play a comedy is largely due to the fact that the cast play so many different characters! There is a train scene where the Richard Hannay is sitting in train coach with 2 other passengers (played by Stephen Crithclow and Stephen Ventura). Stephen Crithclow and Stephen Ventura change from being passengers to train guards to news paper boys, all by clever positioning on stage, voice changes and minor costume alterations such as changing hats.
It's hard to visualise, but it certainly works and is really funny. They use this style throughout the play which makes it unpredictable and entertaining. Credit must also go to the writer who has written some hilarious lines which are executed brilliantly by a wonderful cast.
=== Ticket Prices ===
Full price tickets are:
Stalls £57.00, £44.50, £28.50
Dress Circle £57.00, £28.50
Upper Circle £44.50 £32.00, £16.00
The recommended ticket seller is Ticketmaster but there are many others also selling tickets. The recommended prices are quite expensive so I suggest you shop around for some better prices. Sellers such as Tkts have tickets on sale for tonight's show for £25.50 (instead of £45 at the theatre)
=== Running Time ===
2 hours including a 15 min intermission
=== Show Times ===
Monday to Saturday at 8pm
There are also matinees on Tuesdays at 3pm and on Saturdays at 4pm
=== Theatre address ===
2 Jermyn Street
London SW1Y 4XA
Closest tube station is Piccadilly Circus
=== Showing till ===
It's showing in London until February 2010 at Criterion Theatre, but it will be also showing at the Liverpool Playhouse from 3 December 2009 till 16 January 2010
Overall - My thoughts
Overall I was pleasantly surprised. It is a very funny comedy - old school style comedy - witty, clever and creative. They don't attempt to make the audience laugh with cheap or crude jokes. The plot is easy to follow and although it's set in the early 1900's it's still easy to understand and I was pleased that you didn't have to know English war history or Hitchcock to understand this play.
I don't think it would be the best play to take children to. There is quite a lot to follow and sometime the humour is quite subtle. But I think teenagers would quite enjoy it. My parents are visiting later this year so I think I will take them to see this, and I'm more than happy to see it again.
This is a really quirky adaptation of the 39 steps and not what I was expecting at all. The Criterion theatre stands right on the corner of Oxford Circus.
You enter the theatre at street level but as the theatre is built deep underground and so have to walk down a couple of flights to get to teh stage level. I'm not sure about lifts for thos not able to walk. The theatre is decorated in 19th Century opulance so it is like stepping back to the Theatres hay day.
The prices in the bar weren't too bad especially by London standards.
The play is in the style of a comedy with a number of double entendre and as there are only 4 actors there are loads of "...you look just like...." jokes. The set is minimal and so there are lots of artisitic theatre tricks used. Such as carrying a window on stage to look through.
The play is quite short at less than hour for each half - so plenty of time to explore London after the show or grab a late meal.
This is really goood fun and will have laughing out loud in great oppulent surroundings
I saw this play last weekend, and I haven't laughed so much in a long time. This really is an extremely amusing play. We chose this play on the recommendation of a review which claimed it to be the funniest play in the West End at the moment, which I took with the usual pinch of salt, but decided to give it a try anyway. It really is. Maybe the funniest thing in the West End ever.
I won't give away too much of of the plot, not that it would really spoil the experience. The 39 Steps, by John Buchanan was most famously directed by Alfred Hitchcock in the 1935 film, but this play, which is produced by Maria Aitken, while based on the same film (rather than the book), is an altogether different experience. With just four actors minimal scenery, and simple visual props and many characters this is an absolute masterpiece of visual humour and comic timing. This is perhaps the ultimate spoof espionage thriller. The play starts with the 37 year old hero feeling bored and looking for something exciting to do. He goes to the theatre where he meets a mysterious young lady and to cut a hysterical story short, she gets murdered in his flat after revealing some secret information and the chase begins. Most other roles are played by just two male actors, sometimes several at a time with just a quick change of hat and accent to alert you to the identity. Pythonesque female characters and outrageous overacting will keep you laughing to the end.
The 39 Steps is currently playing at the Criterion Theatre, which is in the middle of Piccadilly Circus, easy to see, with large signs outside. The theatre is a good old theatre with reasonable comfortable seats, although we had slightly restricted visibility towards the back of the stalls, but that was Ticketmaster's fault, who's description of the seats was a little misleading. The price was £26.00, which is reasonable, but ticket prices range from £10.00 to £42.50 (increasing to £12.50 to £45.00 from 13th October 2008).
The nearest tube station is Piccadilly Circus. The play starts at 8.00pm (Monday to Saturday) and 4.00pm on Saturday and 3.00pm on Tuesday and runs for 2 hours and 5 minutes including one interval.
This review is also on Ciao.co.uk