DUNDEE REP ENSEMBLE
THE 39 Steps
Murthly Village Hall JUNE 09th 2018
Goodness I hardly know where to begin with this review. For those of us of a certain age Saturday evenings performance, of Scot John Buchan’s classic novel The 39 Steps, was like stepping into a time machine and being transported back to when we would gather around the wireless set in the scullery, sitting room or even under the bedclothes with a little crystal set completely enthralled at the adventures of derring-do to be heard on the radio. How we thrilled at Dick Barton Special Agent, Journey Into Space, Appointment With Fear and the many programmes to be enjoyed on Saturday Night Theatre.
Once a year ambitious DRE head out around Tayside, Perthshire and this year stepping into Fife for the first time taking productions to village halls, community use buildings etc. It is a brilliant idea and whilst the very physical nature of those buildings place a restriction upon how a particular play can be realised the casting and enthusiasm of those audiences more than makes up for any staging constraints.
This year audiences are to be entertained by effectively entering a small Radio Scotland attic studio circa 1938 to “listen” to a “live broadcast” of Buchan’s play. Over the years there have been four film adaptations, TV outings and of course countless theatre versions. Most have changed some details from the original novel including character names, locations etc to suit and so it is with director Irene MacDougall’s production. Of course the hero Richard Hannay, played by with suitable polite aloofness by Ewan Donald, is ever present with Emily Winter the much more attractive Mata Hari’esque spy Annabella Smith (in the novel she is a he Franklin Scudder) and later prim love interest Pamela. All of the cast, Barry Hunter, Ann Louise Ross and Billy Mack take on multiple roles far too many to list. However at no point are you left confused by the switching between characters.
Being staged tightly as a radio production you are met with the sight of the cast actually holding their scripts which is obviously unusual, however this fine cast are not just reading their parts they are most definitely acting the roles and very believably so.
As with the classic radio serials of old most of the sound effects were generated onstage by the cast members who it was clear were relishing these extra responsibilities. Watching the interaction between them you saw them inhabit the roles as they moved around the “studio” pulling, banging, shuffling, and sounding all manner of items creating the atmosphere. It was fun to close your eyes at times and let those aural impressions add that extra dimension to the experience.
The set design worked very well and the script, whilst I suspect an amalgam of ideas drawn from many previous productions, was everything you kind of remembered about the story whilst bringing Hannay and the others to life despite only being real in the pages of that script. Catch the only Fife performance this Saturday, June 16th, in Rio Community Centre, Newport – on-Tay
Graeme Scott K107FM