Sunday, 16 June 2013
4 actors playing 130 characters in 100 minutes – the premise for a highly entertaining version of The 39 Steps currently on stage in London and on tour across the UK.
Any potential problems posed by using a small number of actors with limited staging for a complex play are brilliantly transformed into opportunities for fresh invention. Frenetic energy and imagination encapsulates this production’s narrative drive. The performance seems to offer a series of ‘get-out-of-that’ moments where the ingenious use of physical theatre and prop manipulation becomes the focus for comedy and entertainment. It’s a clever conjuring trick in the tradition of creative drama, as much as it is a reminder for how we can also shape our own ‘theatre of life’. In an age of austerity, this is what can be achieved when you harness the resources of a team to generate solutions.
I was lucky enough to catch 39 Steps courtesy of my hosts Forum Housing Association at the Pavilion Theatre in New Brighton. It didn’t take me long to see a connection between the values of Forum and the Foyer Federation with the innovation of the production. If only more organisations in our society felt the same permission and foresight to perform in a different way to get things done. Like Hannay, too many of us end up feeling constrained. We are handcuffed by bureaucrats to the detriment of doing what we know is vital. The best, though, find a way out.
Freeing of minds is an important theme that runs throughout this play as it travels from London to Scotland and back again, culminating in the final ‘release’ of the Memory Man’s secret. From the subject of the story to its performance on stage, the audience is left rooting for the human spirit personified in Hannay to escape the various restrictions imposed by social forces. The essence of good comedy is in making that revolution look easy.
There is something in the running man of Richard Hannay which encapsulates the charity sector. It’s not just the breakneck speed of things either. Or the sense that we only have 18 hours to save the world while the rest have24 hours with a bigger budget for lunch. Whether we are running to keep ahead, or to outwit others, we often feel we want to achieve something that is too important to be left in the clumsy hands of those currently in power. At least the interplay of an accomplished cast in 39 Steps shows us that we don’t need to do that alone. The right team can make anything possible. It’s Advantaged Thinking theatre that we need most.
The 39 Steps is currently playing at the Criterion Theatre in London.