Review: The 39 Steps at the Barn Theatre – ‘Jolly good show ol’ chap!’

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Murder, secret agents and farcical chaos awaited me at The Barn Theatre last month, and I was not left disappointed.

Adapted from John Buchan’s 1915 novel, The 39 Steps follows the story of the dashing, and pompous Richard Hannay – the unlikely, and loosely titled, ‘hero’ of this story. After a murder takes place in his London apartment, the English gent tries to clear his name. On his journey he encounters more than 100 characters, played out by just four actors…

Director Joseph O’Malley has done well to orchestrate this double-crossing action on the Barn’s small stage, consistently evoking a clear-cut Carry On execution with farcical physicality and quick wit. The show is potentially over-worked due to the lack of space, but O’Malley got inventive with scene swaps which really paid off – a highlight was the airplane chase using some lighting, toy airplanes, a sheet and the clowns. A nice little nod to the novel’s Hitchcockian roots. Furthermore, Mike Leopold’s set came across both clever and kitsch and was a perfect aid to the – sometimes repetitive – slap-stick action.

For me the clowns took centre stage – well executed and versatile performances at an unforgiving pace. Meanwhile Max Hutchinson gives Hanny plenty of dashing arrogance. Although there was no spectacular character arc by the end, Hutchinson delved into the energetic physicality that was demanded from his character.

The Barn’s 39 Steps does well to play on parody, as well as signature stereotypes, – that audience digested on cue – and ultimately our four actors and 140 characters deliver on the top-notch script writing. It’s daft, dashing and carefully chaotic – I must say it was a jolly good show ol’ chap.

The 39 Steps takes place at The Barn Theatre, Cirencester, until 10 August. www.barntheatre.org.uk

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