here for more pictures of this play
LADS - The 39
Let me start by declaring an interest. I know this wonderful comic piece well, having seen it three times professionally, a few amateur productions and having directed it a few years ago with Theydon Bois. I think it is a very special work and perfect for a talented and energetic troupe to adapt as they wish. It allows for creativity, interpretation, showcasing individuals and great collaboration.
Although the plot is faithful to Hitchcock’s classic film, the form of the play is unmistakably a parody, with numerous references to other works by Hitchcock. Its humour and frantic pace is reminiscent of Monty Python and also of Patrick Barlow’s own National Theatre of Brent, which has delighted audiences since the 1980s.
So, with high expectations and a degree of knowledge, I arrived at Lopping Hall very excited. By the end I had seen a wonderful, laugh out loud, masterclass in so many ways.
Set and Staging
The simplicity of the set can underplay the care and decision making of design and what items to use and include. I thought the walls worked well and provided entrances and exits for people and props. You chose to strike most items rather than bring them forward when needed which was fine and kept the acting space clear. The variety of entrances through the front curtains, the auditorium doors and stage left, right and centre, kept the audience guessing and added to the chaotic nature of the play. The themed teal colour scheme of the props and lower walls was a nice touch.
The freewheeling door was used well for outsides and insides and got a few laughs of its own. Going into the Portland Place apartment set this up early on. Its use in The Manor House and for the party was excellent.
I was impressed by the use and functioning of the blind at the window. They are notoriously temperamental but Christian preserved and tamed it in the end, and got the laughs. The telephone ringing gives ample opportunity for comedy and its planned failings always makes for a good gag if the actors can work the looks and awkwardness, which they did.
The two clowns’ appearance at the window with lamppost was perfectly timed twice and got the laugh it deserved. It’s a Morecombe and Wise moment that worked so well. And to end with the snow brought the window back into view.
The flying Vote McCorquodale banner was suitably homemade and the transformation of the heavy lectern and bentwood chairs into the car, a delight. Congratulations on the hotel desk and bed contraption and to whoever designed and built it, Lee Kenneth? The on cue roaring fire was grate. (Oops great!)
Cathy Naylor is a skilled director and grasped the style and nature of the play superbly. On one hand The 39 Steps is only funny and should be played for all the laughs it can get, on the other, it does have a decent thriller plot which to me was more evident in this performance than others I’d seen. This performance was less frenetic than the professional versions which play on the 130 characters by 4 actors as a main foundation with fast changes, much charging about and pace at lightening speed. We see the players physically tire and perspire and this makes it impressive and funny. This LADS production was less frenetic and gave space for the story line to show through. Between them, Hitchcock and Buchan could knock out a good tale.
I liked the start with the film’s theme music and the four artists taking a bow, it set the tone of something different and perhaps a band of travelling players. The pace and patter between the players was excellent and at times the dialogue pinged between them. This was evident in the Mr Memory act which, punctuated by sound effect applause, explained to any unsuspecting audience member the style of the piece. There was good use of the front tabs that were used as a prop throughout.
The trunks for the train carriages and roofs seem to be the approved choice of props for this scene and why not, they work so well but perhaps they then can double up as storage trunks for the cast to take things from later in the play and build on this minimal travelling players theme. You chose to set and strike the trunks which was okay but perhaps a missed opportunity.
The train scene was a great demonstration of the collaborative work with disciplined deliberate moves, well-choregraphed and executed for maximum effect. ‘Excuse me, sorry’, reading the paper, the swapping hats, Mrs Higgins, the kiss, windblown coats and more all ran on time. I think you could have done more windblown clothing, which did get a laugh, but perhaps I’m being greedy.
The window frames worked well, again these aren’t in the script but are now part of The 39 Steps greatest hits. The audience loved the climbing through each time, perhaps Hannay could have put his fist through the first one to smash the non-existent glass. The chase scenes were short but impactful especially the ones after the McCorquodale speech. The fight in the theatre box and the flying stunt double got an eruption of laughter.
How you were to do the aeroplane chase and crash was much anticipated and climbing the ladders worked well with the fighter pilot helmets and great sound and lighting effects. Damn that impenetrable Scottish mist.
Congratulations on the car transformation, I didn’t anticipate the lectern being involved and the hat steering wheel was simple and effective. The mimed movement was in unison and the sheep sounds make for the plot and fun. Having the two characters then handcuffed for much of the rest of the play brings its own challenges especially when on the moor and climbing the stile. I think Cathy let Cristian and Fiona off lightly with the climbing over the stile, I’ve seen this be much more complex and probably funnier.
The script has so many great lines; “My wife! Well done”, “Bob’s your uncle”, “some of those hymns are terrible hard to get through”, “I’m not surprised you’re an orphan”. These and many more were well delivered and landed the gags.
Christian played Hannay as one of the chaps, a club man who was a little bored and up for adventure. His accent was spot on for this character and made me chuckle immediately. More matinee idol than rough adventurer, this portrayal lent on Robert Donat heavily and gave an exaggerated nod to the film. Hannay had an eye for the ladies and they for him, he knew it and enjoyed it. A bounder in love with his own good looks, what a cad!
Christian’s timing and delivery were excellent throughout and each gag was planned and well executed. The running on the moor became more and more funny, rather strange leg actions. The recognition of the Radio Announcer describing his good looks could I thought have been played for more, perhaps a slowdown to enjoy the compliments.
The McCorquodale speech was well handled and the realisation of the mistaken identity came across in Christian’s facial expressions. It’s another silly part of the play but the sport is in the reactions of the two old boys. By Hannay keeping the speech going, it allows the audience to watch the nodding off of McQuarrie in particular which totally upstages Hannay but that’s part of the ensemble give and take of this play and worked wonderfully with this foursome.
Christian made the most of this terrific part and entertained the audience very well. Good work.
Annabella is possibly my favourite of the 3 characters that Fiona got to portray. It’s the accent that sets it apart; “inwolved” “Beeg ouse” and the silliness of the situation which seems pure Monty Python but is all in the film.
The timid Margaret was lovely and very different from Annabella. The instant bonding between Margaret and Hannay leaves nothing to a relationship build, goes straight into the joy of London, realising the newspaper story and into the passionate goodbye kiss.
Pamela becomes a foil for the others in much of the play and Fiona did well not to try to compete with the other extreme characters but allow the action to take place around her.
The hotel scene gave the opportunity for some good sparring with Hannay. Filling in the register and the bedroom scene were very funny. Taking off the stockings is always fun if on this occasion a little contrived. Hannay’s hand should happen to fall on Pamela’s knee and its then awkward for Hannay, what I saw was Hannay reach for the knee almost deliberately but it still got a big laugh mainly for Hannay’s expressions.
Fiona kept the story line flowing and delivered the lines with good pace and rhythm, another excellent performance.
Thankoo Dean for your variety of wonderfully ridiculous characters. Congratulations for your Music Hall Mr Memory and the 13 lines of engine features. Dean could also mime juggle without once dropping a ball. His Scottish Crofter was excellent and a tribute to Jon Laurie. His loathing of the English Man in the big hoose and the manic grace before supper made me laugh out loud.
Louisa Jordan was more Bond villain than Lady of the Manor, but then Mr Jordan wasn’t exactly Chairman of the Parish Council. We also saw Louisa’s brother at the political meeting putting out the chairs in the guise of Dunwoody.
Well done on balancing the chairs and the lectern after the car scene, strength and balance required.
I’d pick out Mrs McGarrigle as Dean’s finest moment. The little sideways crab like dance he produced made me chuckle. That hotel was The League of Gentlemen territory, funny, spooky and bizarre all at the same time. I liked the telephone talking behind the hat.
The close work with Phil was of the highest quality and Dean made the most of this almost unique part. A joy to watch.
I’m not sure if I’ve seen Phil on the Loughton stage before but what a treat he gave the LADS regulars. I loved the cheeky Milkman, Phil and Christian pushed through all those one liners at great pace, perfick!
Phil’s collection of Scottish accents were a joy to hear as we moved around the Outer Hebrides, through the highlands and into Glasgow, an aural tour the SNP would probably have hated! The mimed bagpipes were funny and led nicely into the McGarrigle hotel
Professor Jordan was splendidly OTT for this production. His rection to the thirty-nine steps was wonderfully stupid and showing the missing finger, spot on. The scene between Jordan and Hannay was a real highlight of the play as Phil went from bizarre to Germanic manic bonkers and Hannay played it straight and serious. Phil gave a great cameo with expressive expressions, disciplined moves and audience engagement. And then to finish the Act with the weird dance with Mrs J. It was time for a drink!
The Garibaldi eating Sheriff who switches sides was another delight from Phil as was McQuarrie at the meeting who struggled with the oversized lectern and ended up laying upon it, beautifully choregraphed and executed. Then his slow steady lowering into the chair, almost touching the seat before rising again slowly to take the podium. This is exactly what I mean by controlled, disciplined precision, and rarely seen to this standard on an amateur stage.
On one occasion, I think as Mr McGarigle, Phil managed to smile with one side of his mouth and face and then followed with the other side, it was quite extraordinary. This was a memorable performance of detailed discipline in the hands of a talented performer.
Sound and Lighting
The sound and lighting designs played an important part in the production and Sarah Biggs and Andrew Rogers were certainly kept busy. The lighting on Hannay asleep in the chair, evening and morning worked well as did the haze of the Forth River and the drop from the bridge with a well-timed splash.
The party sounds with the opening and closing of the doors was terrific and couldn’t have been easy to do and I liked the screech of the gramophone needle to abruptly finish the music.
Thanks for the note in the programme about the sound effects. They were the work of Max Batty and Colin Guthrie of the Tower Theatre Company based in Stoke Newington. They would be delighted to know their efforts found another outing.
You must have raided the societies wig box with a passion. They were mostly appropriately ridiculous and looked stuck on, apart from Annabella’s but that’s live theatre for you.
Sherlock fancy dress for Dean’s inspector made me smile as did Professor Jordan’s attire. Lots of quick changes were needed and this must have been part of the selection of which costume to use. The changes were slick and added to the performance.
As good as ever but special mention for the film graphic, I thought this was clever and attractive. Nice one Howard!
The 39 Steps was a great piece of work and a wonderful opportunity to showcase the talents of these four performers. This is a challenging piece to tackle and Cathy should be pleased with her and the team’s achievement. Now you can have a well-earned rest; Garibaldi anyone?
NODA Regional Representative.