The 39 Steps

Date 18th March 2022
Society Gamlingay Players
Venue The Eco Hub, Gamlingay
Type of Production Play
Director Graham Virgo
Producer Amy Lovat
Written By Patrick Barlow from John Buchan's original Book


Author: Richard Fitt

First of all; a warm welcome to District 2 for Gamlingay Players as a result of the necessary rearranging of District 1. So this was my first official visit to see the Players, but I have of course, being a local resident, enjoyed many of their productions over the last couple of decades. This one, John Buchan’s superb spy thriller with, as one critic put it ‘a large helping of Monty Python,’ is a firm favourite and was bound to be great fun.

Gamlingay Players have been trying to put this show on for the last two years. It was first scheduled for March 2020, so full marks indeed for perseverance. This has meant several changes of personnel as people have moved or become unavailable, but finally it has reached the stage. The original play was written for four actors, Richard Hannay, a female actor to play all Hannay’s love interests and 2 other actors often made up as clowns to play all the other 35 different parts which means lightning-fast scenes and costume changes, often within the same scene. Director Graham Virgo choose to lighten the load somewhat and ended up with a cast of sixteen, which I hasten to add also works perfectly well.

There is no permanent stage at The Eco Hub, Gamlingay, so it has to be built from scratch and what a herculean effort Stage Managers, Clive Pattle and Jane Orchiston and Stage crew Will Zerny had made of that (no doubt with a little help from the rest of the company). A full raised stage with ceiling high curtains and a stage full of props and furniture for twenty-seven different scenes, thirty-three in all. Being a quick fire spoof of the original story, several scenes are laid out at once and we opened up with Richard Hannay’s flat being depicted by just a large central arm chair, with future scenes such as the splendid girder to represent the Forth Bridge and the double-sided reversable trolley door clearly visible in the background. With well place lighting by Andrew Peters to depict each scene this kept our attention on the current one perfectly. Sound I never even thought about, which is always a good sign and meant sound man David Masterson had done a perfect job. All the sounds were curated by Colin Carroll ,and between the two of them as I said there was absolutely nothing wrong with the sound quality, which in the echo chamber that is the hall in the Eco Hub is quite an achievement, especially to my aging ears!

With make up by Bryony Mountfort and Costumes by Jan Cooper and the cast all designed to give us the feel of pre-war 1935 the stage was certainly well set.

What makes this play is the highly amusing use of props. The use of a simple wooden frame to depict a window which Hannay and chasers escape through several times during the action by passing it over their heads, down their bodies and stepping out; or the superb model biplane, ‘hand flown’ around the stage during the pursuit across the Scottish moors. In this case full credit to Sophia Kelly for collating them all together and even playing a window herself.

Craig Smoothy was indeed a very plausible Richard Hannay, chin up, pipe smoking, stiff upper lip Englishman (although I believe Buchan had him as Canadian in the original book) with understated, slightly clipped, upper middle-class 30’s accent.  From his initial posture whilst seated in his armchair to his reserved manner in being unable to show overt feelings, especially towards Pamela, he was every bit the 1935 Englishman adventurer out to save King and Country. Excellent job!

Bryony Mountfort, whom I have seen on stage quite a few times over the last decade or so has certainly matured into the consummate actress and is now firmly established as a leading lady in Gamlingay Players. And here she shows why with deft performances as Annabella Schmidt  and Pamela Edwards. Some superb interaction with Hannay with all the awkward social niceties of the period handled extremely well. And as for the corpse lying across the arms of the chair without moving a muscle that was quite a feat of gymnastics and core strength.

The rest of the cast supported admirably, with some excellent quick-fire cameos. Particularly like Chris Martin as Mr Memory and Mr McQuarrie.  I hope he wasn’t hurt but there was a wonderful unscripted moment at the end of play where the chair he was seated on completely collapsed to the delight of the audience and the two leads left on stage had to work hard not to corpse!

And hats off to the two busiest men on the stage, Colin Carroll and Fred Hammett who played thirteen different parts between them including in Fred’s case a couple of inanimate objects namely a Stile and a Bog! Highly amusing!

Well done to the rest of the cast, Amy Lovet, Anna Rabbett, Beth Parker, Dawn Torrence, Eddie Torrance, Graham Virgo, Hannah Ginetta, Ian Parker, Jon Montfort, Sophia Kelly, Zola Kelly.  Thoroughly enjoyably performances.

So congratulations to director Graham Virgo on getting the show on the road again, if I have any criticism I would say the pace could have been picked up in a few places and there were a couple of long scene changes, which in a quick-fire show like this certainly did knock the pace on the head for a while. That said I think the show was summed up by the man sitting next to me who, as we got up to leave, said, ‘Well that was a great deal of fun!’ I wholeheartedly agree.

 [GV1]He curated all the sounds!