Review: The 39 Steps
Written by Elsa Klein
As directed by Ed Polsue, The 39 Steps was a lively production that highlighted the talent of both its actors and designers.
In a highly stylised adaptation of Hitchcock’s 1935 film, The 39 Steps follows the absurd adventure of Richard Hannay (played by Daniel Jonusas) as he stumbles into a large-scale spy chase. There’s murder, love affairs, kidnapping, and everything Hitchcock.
Particularly noteworthy cast members include Harrison Roberts and Louis Wilson, playing an energetic and hilarious clown duo. Roberts and Wilson worked well together through several series of complicated character-swapping bits, and maintained the comedic style of the play. Jonusas’ Richard Hannay character was also essential in keeping the farcical humour alive, and Jonusas upheld the character well.
Also central to the show’s success was the creative visual interaction between the technical elements. From using lighting and prop manipulations to show a plane flying across the stage to creating simple set pieces that became living parts of the comedy, the talented technical team really tied together the show nicely (Caelan Mitchell-Bennett, Joshua Undy-Jamison, Ryan Delaney, and Alan Chodyniecki).
The unfortunate aspect of this performance was the underlying sexism present throughout the script. Small things—such as a joke about wishing for a lacy bra to be ‘filled in’—were less humorous than they were crude. Larger things—such as the leading lady falling in love with her kidnapper—left a more significant sense of misogyny on stage. Though I’m sure these derogatory presentations of the female characters were intended to satirise the misogyny of Hitchcock’s original script, the play ultimately failed to make this distinction clear. Moments such as the joke about breast size seemed to land laughs at the expense of women—not at the expense of Hitchcock. Potentially drawing more direct attention to the problematic aspects of the three stereotyped, static female character arcs may have helped address these issues. I do realise that making script changes are incredibly hard to maneuver for logistical and legal reasons. However, I might ask the production team and the wider St Andrews theatre community to consider in the future whether we should continue to put our efforts in the first place towards producing plays that uncompromisingly fail the Bechdel test.
Though the script may suggest some gender-based issues, I don’t wish to discredit the effort and skill involved in putting together this production. Commitment from the cast, careful staging from the director, and precision from the technical team together created a solid performance.