If you’re looking to get out of the pandemic doldrums, look no further than Chemainus Theatre Festival’s new production The 39 Steps.
While the theatre has worked hard to provide entertainment through the pandemic, with small dinner cabaret shows, The 39 Steps marks their first full show back, kicking off the 2022 season.
Notably the play is very loosely based on the Alfred Hitchcock movie of the same name. I say loosely because Hitchcock is not known for his comedies, and this version of The 39 Steps most certainly is one. It’s been adapted by Patrick Barlow to make the spine tingling thriller into a show that will have you guffawing at regular intervals.
While Hitchcock will leave you on the edge of your seat to see which shoe is going to drop next, this production will leave you anticipating what crazy characters will next grace the stage, as our hero, bored layabout Richard Hannay (Aidan deSalaiz), makes his way through an espionage intrigue and Scotland — the jury’s still out on which is the more confounding.
There is not a dull moment as the production sets the scene quickly with the murder of a beautiful Russian spy in Hannay’s London flat, a murder Hannay quickly becomes wanted for. Before her death, the spy manages to detail enough of her mission to inspire Hannay to take up her cause, as he’s hunted by both authorities and a shadowy enemy.
There is plenty of amusing physical comedy in this show, with lots of memorable moments including some hilarious antics with a streetlight and some lurking villains; a chase inside, and outside a train; and characters escaping through a variety of windows.
The show’s performances are key, with each member of the small cast displaying excellent comedic timing. deSalaiz is joined by Alexandra Brynn, who plays all three of the major women’s roles in the show with notable aplomb, deftly differentiating between them. deSalaiz himself is highly likeable, able to convey just the right mix of vulnerability and gumption, so that the audience is fully on board as he navigates an increasingly unfortunate series of events.
All of the other roles, of which there are many, are played by Caitlin Driscoll and Felix LeBlanc in an incredible display of quick-change artistry (you’ll be left wondering how on earth they do it). There comes a time when two characters played by the same actor even have a conversation with each other. It all adds to the sense of mayhem and momentum that keep the show rolling and rollicking at a fast clip. Stephen Thakkar rounds out the cast as the understudy.
Also cleverly adding to the fun are a fawning radio announcer and continuous Easter eggs for Hitchcock fans, winking slyly at most of his famous films, from North by Northwest, to Vertigo and Rear Window.
I also appreciated that while a show like this doesn’t require a particularly involved plot to work, the ending twist here is actually quite clever and satisfying, calling back to an earlier sequence in the show that seemed a throwaway at first glance.
This show is just the refreshing palate cleanser we all need right about now to chase the blues away.
It runs until May 22.