A couple of props, sound effects, and four amazing actors make up the criteria for a laughter-filled night at the Criterion Theatre. Upon stepping foot on the carpet-laden steps of the theater, I snapped a picture of the brightly lit sign that caught my eye as we entered Piccadilly Circus. Best new comedy, indeed!
As I ventured into my assigned seat on the second row, my first thought was that my neck will cramp from having to look up too much because of how close the seats were from the foot of the stage. I have been to more theaters where the seats are further apart and the stage sits a couple feet away from the front row. However, I felt that because the theater was set up that way, it created a more intimate setting between the audience and the actors. In a traditional theater, we usually sit as spectators, watching the actors interact with each other. This play rendered the fourth wall that separates us as audience members and the actors nonexistent. For example, the actor who plays Richard Hannay, Ben Righton, directly addressed the ladies who went back to their seats late. That one second when he jumped out of character added an element of surprise and contributed to the overall humor of the play.
Needless to say, it was the actors that truly brought Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film The 39 Steps to life. Furthermore, the supporting actors playing numerous roles ultimately brought the house down. It made for a more dynamic scene that sometimes ended in chaos (the actor who played three different roles by just switching hats).
I had prior knowledge that the play is meant to be a parody, however, I did not expect much more than a chuckle here and there. As soon as the actor who played Mr. Memory (and other characters) showed up on stage though, I knew I was wrong. Some of the important aspects that set the comedic tone of the play were the exaggeration of the sound effects, the actors’ movements, and the way they delivered their lines. This completely separates it from the suspenseful and serious tone of the black and white film.
The simplicity of the structure of the play is the best part. It did not include any extravagant props that might have taken away the funniest bits of the play. For example, the actors would wave their clothes for the windy scenes or they would make their own sounds when opening an imaginative window. They used the lack of props as a comedic element. Again, they broke out of the characters they were playing to add a different dimension to the play. This comedic adaptation separates itself from other plays because it did not need catch phrases or a funny dialogue for it to be hilarious. They took advantage of the fact that there were only four people on stage and used that to create one of the best plays I’ve seen in my life!