The 39 Steps

Date 15th May 2018
Society Betchworth Operatic & Dramatic Society
Venue Betchworth Memorial Hall
Type of Production Play
Director Julie Bickerdike & Diane Mayall


Author: Jon Fox

I was able to visit to review the technical / dress only and so my comments naturally exclude many of the technical problems that were, hopefully, ironed out in good time for the paying public.

At the outset I must praise the whole concept of thirty characters played by just eleven performers. Joint directors Julie Bickerdike and Diane Mayall played four characters between them. David Ames on both sound and lighting dovetailed as Mr Memory. Set construction was by an in-house team including four who also acted. To call this production a true team effort is somewhat of an understatement.

In the vital lead role of Richard Hannay, Julian Warner-Edney gave a surefooted and impressive performance. Hannay is a huge part and Julian handled it with aplomb! The train chase and escape scene were dramatically handled with prominent and skilful use of a metal ladder to represent the Forth Bridge, where Hannay escaped.

Mr Memory was asked in the performance, while attending the theatre, who won the FA Cup in 1926 and told us that Spurs beat Arsenal 5-0. Sadly, Mr Memory, it was actually Bolton who beat Manchester City 1-0! Nevertheless, the scene was well worked with Ian Stone as compere asking the audience to fire questions. What was actually fired though was a bullet (gunshot SFX).   

Linda Slater as the short lived Annabella Schmidt died in dramatic fashion in Hannay's lap with a knife in her back. Her twitching, newly dead hand, holding the map was an amusing touch which raised a laugh from me. Linda played all her four roles (the other three being a paperboy, Dunwoody and Palladium singer) to the hilt and has particularly good diction.

This production was in fact the spoof version of 39 Steps adapted by Patrick Barlow and the continual humour throughout the play dovetailed nicely with the drama in this thriller.

Tracey Hulf was charismatic as Pamela and the scene when handcuffed to Hannay was excellent. As their relationship deepened to eventual marriage the change from strangers to couple was beautifully nuanced  by both players.

Though there was much comic, even hilarious business, the drama was always paramount and the tension never flagged. Despite one or two technical mishaps - to be expected on a tech / dress - much of the physical business, with a largely unset stage worked to great effect. I was unsure whether the delayed sound effects when the door was knocked were a planned and humourous touch, or whether it was a technical hitch. Either way, I liked it and found it in keeping with the rest of the play. The window frame and door were perhaps simple, but oh so effective! I also liked the lamppost scene with the two skulking "heavies" (David Longes and Stephen Tickell) acted out on the hall floor.                                 

Neil Mayall acted his widely varied three roles to near perfection, being "frighteningly" sinister as Professor Jordan and with an impressive Scottish accent and persona as the Crofter. David Longes gave individual quirks and personality to his four roles, especially to Mr McGarrigle and was a comic delight as the Sheriff. Stephen Tickell played four roles, three of them police personnel and convinced in all his actions. Amy Mager did very well, especially as Margaret. Diane Mayall gave us a very individual and comic Mrs McGarrigle, working well with David as her husband. She also played McQuarrie with skill as too did the co-director Julie Bickerdike playing Mrs Higgins. Diverse roles were all well played by Ian Stone - Compere, Milkman, Salesman and  Accompanist          .

Much effective use was made of the video backdrop which was devised by Tom Bickerdike and Stephen. As mentioned before, David lit the stage most effectively with atmosphere and also provided excellent sound effects. I also liked the simple use of blocks for the travel scenes.

Linda King, Sally Coleman, Shirley Trower, Julie Bickerdike provided costumes and makeup, which were entirely suitable overall.                  

There was much to admire about the pace and flow. Remembering that this was only a dress / tech rehearsal, the enjoyment factor was high. I am sorry that I was not able to review the public performance, but based on what I saw here, I doubt that the audience would have been other than impressed. Well done BODS!