Monday, July 9, 2012

39 Steps beyond excitement!

     Since the beginning of cinema, filmmakers have strived to create exceptional adaptations of literature. They have worked to produce the intricate and awe-inspiring worlds that authors have conceived throughout time in order to enthrall and inspire the imagination of the masses. However, only a couple of directors have succeeded in capturing the desired essence interwoven within the novels (Kubrick and Kaufman being a few).  In today’s contemporary society, artists have begun turning to other forms of adaptation as a means of reaching an even larger audience. 

     The Criterion Theatre located in the heart of London (Piccadilly Circus) has taken this idea of altering mediums and created a theatrical adaptation of the Alfred Hitchcock classic film The 39 Steps (1935).  This staged performance of 39 Steps remains true to the storyline of the original film, however, it twists itself away from being similar to the tense and often times dry tone of the film by incorporating into this dramatic performance a layer of overly exaggerated comedic slapstick (which was done to such a perfection that it was extremely entertaining).

      What makes this performance production extremely memorable and a highly invigorating piece of spectacle was that there were only four performers (Andrew Alexander, Catherine Bailey, Paul Bigley and Stephen Critchlow) playing over 130 differing parts throughout the play. While the transitioning of an actor between differing roles within the same production can grate on the nerves of the audience if it is not done well, it was never an issue during this performance as every single one of the actors did an incredible job of drawing out any reservations towards the changes as they moved seamlessly into the steps of another character (sometimes even playing two different characters at the same time, accomplishing this through wearing a split costume in which they had one character’s features on one side of their body and another character’s features on the other half) . A lot of the comedic hilarity of the show came not only from the characters interactions with the props and multi functional set design, but rather from the physical and exaggerated use of improve to create a world beyond the sets as they used the full space of the stage to draw us in.   
     Having seen this stage adaptation shortly after having watched the film helped to create a greater sense of appreciation and connection to the story through seeing how the small moments of the narrative were greatly altered depending upon which medium it was in. For example, one of the differences are when the main character, Richard Hannay (Robert Danat) is woken up by Miss (Agent) Smith stumbling into his bedroom (living room in the play) with a knife in her back. In the film, she collapses on the bed and dies. No more, and no less. In the play, the Agent ambles into the room and collapses across the arms of the chair in which Hannay had been sleeping, flopping around and dragging out her death for several hilarious moments before finally dying and effectively trapping Hannay in the chair under her (forcing him to slide his way out from under her). Another difference was how the Director’s of the separate mediums went about with leaving an impression of the end of the tale on the audience. In the film, the main character solves the puzzle by preventing important state secrets from leaving the country and that is the end of the film. In contrast, at the end of the play the Director (Maria Aitken) added a scene in order to create a sense of an immediate happy ending for the audience of the theatre by showing the couple to have gotten married and had a child.

     The best part of the theatrical performance of 39 Steps was the Criterion Theatre’s homage to other works of art by the Director of the original film, Alfred Hitchcock, such as to his films of Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960).

No comments:

Post a Comment