The 39 Steps on stage
The current production, at London's Criterion Theatre, offers clever staging, deft character and costume changes on the fly from the cast of four, and a lead actor whose mustache is strikingly similar to Robert Donat's in Alfred Hitchcock's great 1935 film version.
It also offers a corpse that keeps waving one of its arms, Scottish and other accents milked for laughs, gay and straight sexual winking and nudging, and an old man running around in boxer shorts. What it does not offer is any but the slightest hint of the suspense that marked either John Buchan's 1915 novel or Hitchcock's very different movie. (I haven't seen either the 1959 or the 1978 movie versions.)
The show, crafted with apparent affection from the important bits of the Hitchcock, turns those bits into a long Benny Hill sketch. The mix works, to judge from the explosive horselaughs and deep, rich and rasping snorts of merriment from the two men who sat right behind me. But it has little to do with crime fiction despite the influential novel and superb movie from which it borrows its name.
An essay in the play's program proposes Buchan's hero, Richard Hannay, as one of the most enduring and influential heroes from the Golden Age of the thriller. Hannay, according to the article, "formed the blueprint for a whole gallery of similar characters," including Bulldog Drummond, the Saint, and, as the type mutated, James Bond, Len Deighton's unnamed hero and John Le Carre's disillusioned protagonists.
It's a stimulating article that may interest readers of my recent comment about the most influential crime writer ever.
© Peter Rozovsky 2007