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Review: The 39 Steps

A fast-paced and juicy comedy that packs a punch


Initially, I had some reservations about a comedy spy show. Pembroke cellars is a smaller venue, and the cast consists of only four members. However, I was pleasantly surprised.

The 39 Steps proved to be a fun, dynamic evening show with a great storyline and an obviously talented cast. From start to end, the audience was laughing, and despite limited set, the cast was able to suspend disbelief and bring alive the ambitious tale.

Director Amenie Groves has clearly worked tirelessly to bring this vision to life, and with soaring success. Based on the 1915 novel, the play parodies the spy genre with intrigue, romance, and a lot of fast-paced chaos. The stage work was impressive, with movements up and down the small stage, employing all of the space effectively.

With only a few props, the cast made a little go a long way: at one point, a music stand served as a car wheel, a clothes rack managed to be a train window, and a teddy proved to be a ferocious tiger –  all to effective comedic effect. The plotline was engaging, if a little nonsensical, and the audience left Pembroke cellars feeling as if they had spent their money well: for only £5 a ticket, The 39 Steps is certainly worth it.

Image credits: Bex Goodchild

Taking centre stage, Sam Thompson played the role of Richard Hannay, a normal fellow that gets mixed up in a spy drama after taking a trip to the theatre. Thompson was a convincing and appropriately amusing main character, one that you couldn’t help but root for. By the end of the play, his character had developed from a confused but good-meaning man to a brave, if slightly wary spy, in a convincing and well-written character arc. His performance was varied, enthusiastic and determined, with a surplus of fight scenes, kisses, and, at one memorable point, scaling the side of a moving train.

Aside him, the female lead and love interest, Pamela, was played excellently by Blossom Durr. She commanded the stage with her energetic feminine persona and fantastic comedic timing with lines. She glided easily across the stage, and at times, across the audience – at one point, she came and sat amongst the audience, sitting right in front of me, reacting to Richard’s speech.

Aside him, the female lead and love interest, Pamela, was played excellently by Blossom Durr. She commanded the stage with her energetic feminine persona and fantastic comedic timing with lines. She glided easily across the stage, and at times, across the audience – at one point, she came and sat amongst the audience, sitting right in front of me, reacting to Richard’s speech.

Durr also played Anabella, the black-haired, thickly-accented spy that initially brought Richard into the story. The moment right at the beginning of the play, when she shot the pistol in the theatre stands, immediately asserted to the audience that this was a piece of theatre to take seriously.

Image credits: Bex Goodchild

Nadia Lines and Grace Wakeman, the ‘clowns’, managed to play over forty roles between them. They controlled effortlessly the humour of the play, and whenever they were on stage, the audience was assured a good laugh. Both actors showcased an impressive stamina: they were running around, yelling, and even fighting for almost the whole two hours of performance.

Their multi-roling was inspiring and convincing. One particular moment that comes to mind was when they managed to do a costume change, managing a conversation between three people (a criminal, an innkeeper, and the innkeeper’s husband) with only two actors. Wakeman especially used a very diverse range of accents, ranging from a cockney milkman to a grouchy Scottish crofter.

Image credits: Bex Goodchild

The sound design was thoughtful and often hilarious, with backing tracks and voiceovers during climactic moments. The music was inspired by the musical motifs of the spy genre, fitting the theme effectively, and the lighting often successfully matched the mood of the narrative. Sound and Lighting Designer Robert Woodland did a wonderful job, using sound and light to enhance the play without distracting from the actors.

This bright, exciting play will keep you entertained if you choose to see it one evening this week.

4/5

Feature image credits: Bex Goodchild

The 39 Steps is playing this week in Pembroke Cellars from Tuesday 21st-Saturday 25th 2023 at 9:30 pm. Buy your tickets here.

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