Fringe Box



Review: The 39 Steps – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Published on: 24 May, 2016
Updated on: 24 May, 2016
39 Steps 3 feature

Hannay somehow keeps evading capture by the police.

By Ferenc Hepp

It was good to see a packed auditorium on opening night for the classic comedy thriller that is The 39 Steps, staged this week at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre.

This is the famous adaptation of John Buchan’s novel from 1915, which played at the Criterion Theatre in London’s Piccadilly Circus between 2006 and 2015 and won Best Comedy at the Olivier Awards in 2007.

This version presented, by Fiery Angel Ltd and Tricycle London Productions Ltd in association with the West Yorkshire Playhouse, was adapted by Patrick Barlow and is truly a hoot from beginning to end.

Truly a hoot from beginning to end

Having seen the production at the Criterion previously, I was glad to see the same setting successfully installed on the Arnaud stage, including the two ‘London Palladium Boxes’ above the stage on both sides, which are used at the beginning and the end of the show to great comic effect.

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London palladium boxes built into the set are used for great comic effect. Olivia Greene and Richard Ede.

The story follows the adventures of Richard Hannay (played by a very authentic 1930s looking Richard Ede) whose life gets turned upside down following the
murder of a woman in his apartment.

Annabella Schmidt is played by Olivia Greene and the pair demonstrate some rather comical physical moments in the first scene, however, I did find Greene’s accent rather difficult to understand at the start when she played Schmidt, and also throughout the play, playing a number of different characters.

39 Steps 1

The disadvantages (or advantages) of dressing whilst handcuffed. Olivia Greene and Richard Ede.

However, a special mention and praise must be given to the director, Maria Aitken, and the only other two actors in the show; Andrew Hodges and Rob Witcomb, as they are constantly on and off stage, with the four actors apparently playing 130 roles between them. I did not even attempt to count.

All the characters played by Hodges and Witcomb are differentiated by just a quick change of costume, hat, or even two costumes worn at the same time at one
point. The timing for this to work has to be perfect, and they certainly demonstrate accomplished comedy timing to achieve this, brilliantly directed by Aitken.

…accomplished comedy timing … brilliantly directed…

Following the incident in his apartment, Hannay, with his period pencil moustache, escapes London after being accused of the murder and ends up fleeing to Scotland and even becomes entangled to ‘Pamela’ (also played by Greene) with handcuffs, when they end up having to share a bed in a remote Scottish hotel.

More physical humour and hilarity ensues, and some of my favourite comedy moments include a chair being slid on from the wings to end up perfectly behind Ede to sit down on, and a window held in position by one of the actors that moves, depending on what the scene dictates.

…fast paced, clever and funny…

Hannay somehow keeps evading capture by the police at every turn and every location and even survives being shot thanks to hymn book in his pocket (“Some of those hymns are terribly hard to get through!”) before ending up back at the London Palladium to watch the ‘Mr Memory’ act again, and taking the opportunity to find out from him what actually the 39 Steps are.

This a fast paced, clever and funny comedy which should appeal to all generations and was very warmly received by the audience on Monday night, but watch out at the end if you are in the first four to six rows!

The 39 Steps runs at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre until Saturday May 28 and tickets are available via the website: or by calling the box office on 01483 440000.

Star rating 4

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