What a surprise to find such a wonderful theatre nestled in the grounds of the Churchlands Senior High School. At something close to 500 seats it is comparable in size to the Heath Ledger Theatre in the Cultural Centre. What a great facility for students to learn their craft both on the expansive stage and behind the scenes. I was told that the school has a very strong musical department and indeed there were eight musicians, headed by Musical Director Mathew Leak, who provide the tune that lingers in our hero’s head. While it was the turn of the acting department to shine with this high spirited farce I notice four of the musicians had parts as well including our Mister Leak!
Some 22 actors are listed in the program with many having small but amusing roles as our hero Richard Hannay (Jordan Price) charges from one misadventure to another in a parody of great Hitchcockian thrillers such as the movie adaptation of the same title and the classic North By Northwest. There is a funny send up of the famous crop duster scene from that film that sees Price flinging himself about the stage as pilots happily fire away.
The story sees Price’s character caught up in all sorts of espionage and intrigue as a sultry foreign agent (Lauren Elliot) is murdered in his apartment forcing him to flee to Scotland. Unfortunately not to Skyfall which I can spell but to a place that I cannot! He is pursued by all and sundry, accused of that murder and in search of the titular 39 Steps which is pretty much a MacGuffin in the grand Hitchcock tradition. To be honest it is the scrapes and japes he gets into along the way that supply all the fun as the plot is tenuous at best. There is an amusing resolution of sorts involving a vaudeville act that is set up early and gives Caitlin Strutt as the Compere and Irene Mateo-Arriere (Miss Memory) a chance to shine.
Many others do as well – Elliot as Schmidt whose untimely end is played as black comedy as our hero has to extricate himself from the scene of the crime; Lloyd Hopkins and Mikhael Poguet who play two salesman on the same train as Hannay flees London but also, with some lovely theatricality involving rapid changes facilitated by different hats, a variety of other characters; and Haralampos Protoolis and Emma Hall as the Scottish innkeepers Mr and Mrs. McGarrigle.
Ellen Harvey also comes into her own in the second half as Pamela. The first half tended to bounce around from one set of characters to another as Hannay ploughs on regardless of his increasingly dire circumstances. The story coalesces into something far more cohesive when he is paired up with Pamela as sparring partner and possible love interest. Price and Harvey work well together with two separate scenes involving handcuffs featured - one, a lovely entanglement as they try and cross a barrier; the other in the inn when they are forced to share a bed.
The show, however, revolves around Price’s performance in the lead as he is only off stage for maybe one brief scene. It is deliberately overstated in both accent and mannerisms as befits the parody but most impressively Price gives Hannay a real physicality as he navigates goons, police inspectors and our villain Professor Jordan (George Samios) with some inventive comic staging.
There are lovely moments throughout – actors flapping their costumes whenever it is windy ‘outside’ which was consistently funny; playing around with window frames as characters make their escape; the knife in poor Schmidt’s back; and some hilarious dummy work towards the end. It never takes itself at all seriously and is an entertaining evening of pratfalls and hijinks with plenty of laughs.
The 39 Steps is an adaptation by Patrick Barlow and co-directed by Angela Padley and Ruth Sutherland. There are two more performances at the school, a matinee and evening show on Saturday 2 May. You can buy tickets at the door at the Churchlands Concert Hall in Lucca Street, Churchlands.