Theatre Review: The 39 Steps

The Victoria Theatre Guild takes another step in the right direction with hilarious spy-thriller

Nick Sepi (back left), Toshik Bukowiecki, Alan Penty (front left) and Karen Brelsford play more than 100 characters in The 39 Steps at Langham Court.

The Victoria Theatre Guild has another hit on its hands with The 39 Steps.

Much in the same vein as its production of The Drowsy Chaperone last season, Langham Court Theatre goes all out with a clever set, strong cast and plenty of whimsy.

The play moves at the pace of a freight train, with only four actors playing more than 100 characters in over 30 scenes. Not an easy task for any theatre company, but the crew at Langham pulls it off effortlessly, and without taking itself too seriously. The show, running until March 23, is a non-stop laugh fest and an entertaining night of community theatre that is sure to sell out.

The 10-person stage crew, led by stage manager Sylvia Lindstrom, who works behind the scenes on the myriad of split-second scene, set and costume changes, definitely deserved the standing ovation it received opening night, as does the cast and the directing team of Keith Digby and Cynthia Pronick. Langham really raised the bar on community theatre with this one, and although it wasn’t perfect opening night, the missteps only added laughs to the already hilarious show.

The story — based on the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film and 1915 novel by John Buchan (former governor general), and adapted for the stage by Patrick Barlow — follows Canadian bachelor Richard Hannay (Alan Penty, the only actor that plays a single character), who meets a mysterious woman in an opera box at a show in London’s West End. The woman (Karen Brelsford, channeling Dr. Evil) turns out to be a secret agent named Annabella, who latches onto the unwitting Hannay for a place to lay low and out of sight of the thugs who are following her.

By the next morning, Annabella is dead and Hannay is on the lam, hell-bent on following the trail of clues she’s left to the Scottish countryside, in search of a criminal mastermind planning to sell state secrets and the meaning behind the phrase “The 39 Steps.”

Nick Sepi and Toshik Bukowiecki round out the cast, each playing a multitude of characters with ease. At one point in the first act, they’re each carrying two hats behind their backs and one on their heads, switching back and forth seamlessly between three characters with the flip of a cap. The scene quickly devolves into a shouting match before one of the characters calls out “Oi, just get on with it”  — comedy gold. These two actors deserve credit for their seamless transitions between accents, costumes, and even genders.

The set, designed and built by the recently retired Bill Adams, boasts a revolving stage and black drapes — a blank canvas that is forever changing, with set pieces rotating on-and-off stage as it revolves. Some of these set pieces serve double or even triple duty, while others, like simple window frames are hand held by cast members, adding to the physical comedy in this already funny show.

Sound and projection design by Kevin Stinson adds a modern multimedia aspect to this time-honoured spy thriller, with projections on the bank of black curtains serving to enhance the sometimes simple set. Karrie Wolfe’s lighting design, especially the slow-motion strobe effects and the authentic Scottish mist, add to the ambiance.

The 39 Steps is another step in the right direction for the Victoria Theatre Guild. M

 

The 39 Steps

Langham Court Theatre

Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm

Matinee March 16 at 2pm

Until March 23

Tickets are $21/19 at langhamtheatre.ca

or 250-384-2142

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