The 39 Steps (4 stars)

Classic thriller becomes a laugh-a-minute comedy

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The 39 Steps

Olivia Greene and Richard Ede / credit: Dan Tsantilis

10 years after Patrick Barlow's farcical take on The 39 Steps hit the West End, this touring production is still packing in the punters – and the laughs. Based on Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 film (in turn loosely based on John Buchan's novel, published 20 years before that), the thrilling story of adventure and intrigue becomes a slapstick riot.

The mysterious and dashing Richard Hannay (here played by Richard Ede) becomes a smug but loveable rake, who's unwittingly embroiled in some first-class espionage. Anyone familiar with Hitcock's version will take comfort in the story's familiarity, and the production (directed by Maria Aitken) sticks pretty closely to the movie's plot.

Olivia Greene plays the show's three female characters – Annabella, who hooks Hannay into the mystery of the 39 Steps; Margaret, the crofter's wife who helps him escape from the police; and Pamela, Hannay's love interest. Together, she and Ede are a big ball of silly fun, but it's Andrew Hodges and Rob Witcomb, rounding out the small cast of four, who get the biggest laughs. The two play every other character, and it's their studiously shambolic double act that really makes this 39 Steps a joy.

Add to that some inventive, absurd staging – the Forth Bridge gets recreated using a few large ladders, to the amusement of tonight's Edinburgh audience – and it's clear why The 39 Steps is now a classic of modern comedy.

Reviewed at King's Theatre, Edinburgh.

The 39 Steps

  • Directed by: Maria Aitken
  • Written by: John Buchan (book)

Patrick Barlow's adaptation of John Buchan's spy novel.

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