Monday, July 21, 2014

39 Steps Off the Underground Into a Circus of Laughter

On the eve of July 17th, after almost a full week in London, I finally felt adjusted to the time change and new lifestyle I was beginning to adopt. I was becoming more excited to see the city of London and little did I know that attending a play for class credit in Piccadilly Circus would soon become one of my favorite places to go to in London (I have been three times since!). Immediately stepping off the underground and up the many stairs I have grown to have a love/hate relationship with, I saw a new world before me one that somewhat reminded me of New York City’s Time Square. Such busy and vibrant life with tons of people walking around and street performers dancing to music really provided insight into the exciting city that London is – full of entertainment and culture. And directly to the right of those stairs was The Criterion Theater ready to challenge my premature assumptions and bring out natural laughter and interests.
Before attending the play, I screened Alfred Hitchcock’s movie The 39 Steps and I assumed I would be in for a monotonous, historical adaptation when going to see the play. And little did I know I was about to be proven so wrong! Walking into the theater, I was too distracted by the entertainment that was going on outside to realize what I was getting myself into. I believe that this blissful ignorance worked in my favor to really appreciate the work of the play and the actors’ talent. The atmosphere of Piccadilly Circus was mesmerizing which made the experience as a whole extremely memorable.

Another one of my premature assumptions was that since the entire play’s cast consisted of only four actors playing 130 different characters, the storyline would be unclear or lost in the constant change. However, the actors pulled it off extraordinarily well and used the slapstick style comedy to their advantage. And technically, only three characters had rapid costume and character changes since the actor, Ben Righton, was the only actor to remain only as the main character Richard Hanney. The remaining three actors were two men and a woman who brilliantly held her own and matched the comedic timing of the men. Her first role, Annabella Schmidt, called for a German accent which she humorously made heavy and nearly incomprehensible until Mr. Hanney would mimic the correct pronunciation providing comic relief before her death – which was also hilariously exaggerated.
Amplifying the humor was the quick role changes that included costume changes some of which had to be done onstage in front of the audience. What made this great was that the actors ran with it and made it part of the script; for example, one of the male actors played mainly foolish characters and in one scene he forgot to change his hat which indicated who he was playing. In this certain scene he was on a train with Mr. Hanney who was annoyed by the fool, pointed at his wrong hat and the man quickly switched to the correct hat and turned to the audience and laughed obviously admitting to his mistake making the audience roar with laughter. It was this improvisation that connected the actors and the audience lessening the feeling of merely watching a play and more like we were interacting with one another. London’s visual culture embraces interaction with its audience, therefore, The 39 Steps and Piccadilly Circus were brilliant ways to capture this and kick off our time here in London. 

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