‘39 steps’ — fabulous piece of theatre

2013-04-03 00:00

JUST days after the film, Hitchcock — which looks behind the scenes at the relationship between the director and his wife, Alma, during the making of Psycho — opens in South African cinemas, fans of Hitchcock’s work can see The 39 Steps, a melodrama adapted from John Buchan’s 1915 novel of the same name and Hitchcock’s 1935 film.

There is a great moment in Patrick Barlow’s Olivier Award and Tony Award-winning The 39 Steps , where the legendary film-maker has a cameo, courtesy of a bit of clever shadow puppetry. Hitchcock often made cameo appearances in his films, so this little homage is a lovely touch.

The 39 Steps, which is at the Hexagon Theatre at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Pietermaritzburg campus, at 7.30 pm from April 11 to April 13, tells the story of a bored young man, Richard Hannay (Clinton Small), who has just returned to London from the colonies.

To pass the time, he goes to see a stage show featuring Mr Memory (Loyiso McDonald), a man who can recall every fact he’s ever read or been told.

During the show, shots are fired and Hannay finds himself being asked for help by the mysterious Annabella Smith (Clare Mortimer), who tells him that she is a spy, being chased by assassins, and that she has uncovered a plot to steal vital British military secrets.

Later that night, Smith is stabbed to death, and Hannay, finding a map clutched in her hand, with a town circled, sneaks out of his apartment disguised as a milkman and boards a train to Scotland. When he sees the police searching the train, he learns from a newspaper that he is the target of a manhunt for Smith’s murder.

To escape detection, he enters a compartment and kisses its occupant, Pamela (Mortimer). Furious, she alerts the police, prompting Hannay to jump from the train onto the Forth Bridge. He eventually makes his way to a house owned by the seemingly respectable Professor Jordan (Michael Gritten). But the professor is, in fact, the spymaster.

The actors, aside from Small, all play multiple roles. Mortimer plays four different women, while McDonald and Gritten transform from policemen into station conductors, newspaper sellers, passengers, a farmer, the owner of a hotel and his wife, and more, by simply putting on a hat and coat, changing their stance or using a different voice.

It’s a fabulous piece of theatre, so if you missed its premiere at the Catalina Theatre in Durban in December last year, make sure you get down to the Hexagon next week.

Tickets are R85 (R75 for students/seniors) at Computicket.

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