Laughter at the double
The 39 Steps
The Grange Players
Grange Playhouse, Walsall
FOUR people play a total of about 130 remarkable characters in this madcap stage version of the famous Alfred Hitchcock film from way back in 1935.
It's an hilarious send-up, performed at a breathtaking pace that leaves the small cast drained but triumphant at the end of each performance.
Dexter Whitehead is superb as stiff-upper-lipped, pipe-smoking Brit Richard Hannay who gets caught up in a dangerous life-threatening adventure after bumping into seductive female spy Annabella Schmidt during a London theatre performance interrupted by gunshots.
The chance meeting triggers a string of incidents involving villains, heroes, policemen who dash up and down the theatre aisle with tracker dogs (toy ones) on leads, a desperate pursuit through the girders of the Forth Bridge and, with the aid of puppets, Hannay crosses a Scottish lock on the back of a large friendly green animal (kermit the frog).
Christina Peak is excellent as Annabella, making an early exit with a kitchen knife in her back, then re-appearing later as Pamela, the woman in the train, and Margaret, young wife of a strange Scottish farmer who tips off the police about the fugitive under his roof, but Hannah escapes through a window frame, wearing the farmer's overcoat.
Step one: Dexter Whitehead (Richard Hannay) and Christina Peak (the soon to be late Annabella Schmidt) at the start of Hannay's spiffing adventure
Later a prayer-book in the coat pocket stops a bullet which at first appeared to have killed our hero.
There is a very amusing scene when Hannay and Pamela are handcuffed together hiding in a hotel bedroom and she has to somehow unfasten her suspenders and remove her stockings
But two of the busiest people on stage are without doubt Joe Cryan and Adam Worton, brilliant in a string of roles, including police constables, detectives, killers, stage performers and a railway guard.
Cryan is particularly impressive playing the theatre star Mr Memory, though he might consider reducing his repetitive tendency to stick out his tongue during his facial contortions in some of his other characters.
The sets are cleverly created by the use of window frames, doors and an armchair on castors, and even chairs and a lectern become a car for a high speed journey. Sound and lighting skilfully operated by Kerry Frater and Martin Westwood add to the enjoyment of a happy show which the audience clearly love.
Directed by Ian Eaton and produced by Chris Waters, The 39 Steps - based on a novel by John Buchan and adapted by Patrick Barlow - runs to 26.05.12. A very impressive production as part of the players' 60th anniversary season.