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

or 250-384-2142

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Jen Hodge conducts an online concert during the pandemic after returning to B.C. from New York City. Photo courtesy Claudia Nobauer
Canada Recovery Benefit won’t replace the magic of live performance, musicians say

Cash will help, but its the audience connection that most performers miss — and crave

Mary Fox’s new book My Life as a Potter is available at bookstores nationwide. (Cole Schisler photo)
My Life as a Potter raises funds for Mary Fox Legacy Project

Acclaimed Vancouver Island potter’s story raising money for developing artists

Premier John Horgan and Rob Douglas, BC NDP candidate for Cowichan Valley, meet with Cowichan First Nation elders, as they demonstrate spearfishing along the river. (Submitted)
Horgan acknowledges A&E sector hit hard by COVID-19, but showing signs of recovery

Hollywood North doing better than Hollywood South, Horgan says

Online reservation service, First Table, allows Victoria diners to have dinner at half-price if they’re willing to be flexible about when they go. (Black Press Media file photo)
New reservation service allows Victoria residents to dine out at half price

First Table gives Victoria diners 50 per cent off when they book tables during off-peak hours

Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann will play the same piano at the Port Theatre on Nov. 1. (Photo courtesy Best Days Ever Photography)
Piano duo perform on one piano in Nanaimo return to live performance

Marcel and Elizabeth Bergmann present first live, in-person concert since March

Leaking Time by Oak Bay resident Ilka Bauer is the winning entry of the Federation of Canadian Artist’s “Crisis” exhibition on now in Vancouver. (Ilka Bauer Image)
Oak Bay artist wins juried show in Vancouver

Pair of Oak Bay artists part of ‘Crisis’ exhibition

Can you spot all 12 Days of Christmas displays at the Butchart Gardens? Jen Blyth photo.
The magic of Christmas returns to the Butchart Gardens

Some events cancelled due to COVID-10 but 12 Days of Christmas will brighten the season

Gatineau artist Michèle Provost visits the Malaspina Galleries during her artist residency on Gabriola Island. (Photo supplied)
Gatineau artist the first to take part in new Gabriola Island artist residency

Michèle Provost to create art book reflecting on the positives of aging

Legendary Vancouver-based blues and jazz guitarist and vocalist Jim Byrnes will perform live at the Tidemark Theatre in a concert that will also be streamed. Contributed photo
Legendary blues musician and actor Jim Byrnes hits the Island

Playing Campbell River’s Tidemark Theatre for a hybrid live/online show

Dinner shows in the Playbill Dining Room are keeping the Chemainus Theatre going during the pandemic. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Dinner events satisfying for the Chemainus Theatre and patrons

Small groups enjoy entertainment and the food in the Playbill Dining Room

Kent Laforme looks through the sound tunnel, or visual portal, carved inside the 25,000-pound marble sculpture that could be installed at Cattle Point. (Screen Shot, video)
Kent Laforme looks through the sound tunnel, or visual portal, carved inside the 25,000-pound marble sculpture that could be installed at Cattle Point. (Screen Shot, video)
Stone Takaya sculpture could soon ‘howl’ at Cattle Point

Oak Bay inviting public suggestions for 25,000-pound marble sculpture

Most Read