The 39 Steps

John Buchan’s adventure story has had several re-incarnations since its original format as a serial in Blackwood’s Magazine back in 1915. It is the first of five novels featuring Richard Hannay, an all-action hero with a stiff upper lip and a miraculous knack for getting himself out of sticky situations. Since the original story, it has been adapted for the radio and re-made as several films (including Alfred Hitchcock’s famous 1935 version), as well as different stage versions. One of the more recent versions is a comedic adaptation by Patrick Barlow for just four actors, and it is this version that the Bishopstoke Players have chosen for their current production.

On arrival, the audience is greeted by a relatively bare, open stage – just threee trunk boxes tucked away at the back against a nicely painted scene. These  boxes are well used during the performance, as they help stage the many individual scenes. However they don’t work as hard as the four actors, only one of which takes the same role the whole way through. James Gould plays Hannay with just the right amount of Britishness, portraying the unlikely hero beautifully. As for the three other actors, you quickly lose count of the number of parts they actually take as the performance progresses – not to mention the differing accents they have each mastered.

It is lucky that Kate Robbins and James get on well, with Kate playing the different romantic interests that Hannay encounters on his adventures. The genuine connection between this pair comes across to the audience. Rob Beadle and Pete Burton play the many supporting roles with breakneck speed, flitting between different characters right before the audience’s eyes. Both deliver their characterisations delightfully, and have many comic moments on which they capitalise as best they can.

This was an opening night performance and there were a few minor issues, particularly with shifting scenery around, but the actors have the opportunity to make this add to the comedy of the piece. The pace dropped at times, possibly to try for more laughs, but more likely as the actors caught their breath.

Barry Kitchen’s direction sees the actors being worked exceptionally hard on the stage – sometimes putting their bodies into seemingly impossible positions – but the effect is very good for the audience, and whilst much of the play is performed towards the rear of the stage, the real gauge of the piece comes from the constant chuckling from the audience.

The Bishopstoke Players list just 40 members on their website, and many of them will have been involved in this production in one way or another. Whilst it won’t be the most polished version you’ll ever see, these are amateurs putting heart and soul into their performances, and are more than worthy of your support and applause.

Future performances: 14 and 15 October at 7.30.