One of the many remarkable things about the stage version of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 spy thriller, The 39 Steps, is that the entire thing is utterly faithful to the movie. All the salient plot points are there and four intrepid actors who play all the roles recreate all the action. Of course this is not drama, but giddy comedy at its goofiest, flat-out, go-for-broke farce of the highest order.
Quickly, Richard Hannay (the ideal Nick Crandall), a lonely Londoner at loose ends, meets an attractive, mysterious woman (the very beguiling Bridget Garwood) at a music hall. After some confusion in the theatre, she shows up at his flat and tells him that she is an operative on the trail of a ring of spies who have stolen important secrets having to do with the air ministry. She is stabbed in the middle of the night and, fearing arrest for murder, Hannay goes on the lam with only a map of Scotland to guide him to the ringleader. The rest is life and death action on a train, lots of running, and many characters, rustic and otherwise, all played by Ms. Garwood and a pair of Clowns (tall, bearded Bill Wolski and short, smooth-faced Greg Prusiewicz) who, between the three of them play somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty distinct characters. The cast displays a wonderful array of voices, accents and physical expressions. The dialect work, from Hannay’s Kensington drawl to a dizzying array of country inflections, sounds accurate to this listener’s ear.
Of necessity, given the limitations of the venue, the production is simply mounted on a bare floor. Three large, rectangular boxes that mutate to become seats on a train, a bed and more, as well as a variety of rolling units including an arm chair, doors, and other clever elements are wrestled about by the cast. At times, the need for scene changes impedes the flow of action. Because the actors, in all that they do, are broadly, vigorously hilarious, this is not a grievous flaw.
Little Fish’s The 39 Steps makes for an exuberant evening of raucous, delightful comedy. Even the pre-show announcements are done with a comic turn. Go see this play. You will have a good time.
The 39 Steps runs through May 19 in rotating rep with Table Manners at Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro.