The 39 Steps by John Buchan

Date 13th May 2022
Society Woodchurch Players
Venue Woodchurch Village Hall
Type of Production Play
Director Ben Vincer
Producer Beth Fenton
Written By adapted by Patrick Barlow


Author: Anne Lawson

After two and a half years, the original cast were delighted to be on stage for their professional, fast paced, multi-tasking, and amusing London to Scotland and back adventure, commencing with Richard Hannay, lonely bachelor relating his story. Full of fast twists and turns, intrigue and murder!

This adaptation of the famous John Buchan story adapted into a parody enabled multiple and varied characters to be performed by just five excellent actors, supported by two slick Scene Shifters – Kim Parmee usually delighting in panto and Neil Vincer a regular of the backstage team. A dream for imaginative director Ben Vincer to create a vision with interchanging set pieces of stage furniture, doors, step ladders, trains, cars, reception desks, cottages, hotels, manor houses – truly quickly and efficiently choreographed by all.

Action took us from a bachelor flat in Portland Road W1, escaping disguised as a milkman, being hunted down for the supposed knifing of stranger German Annabella, on board a steam train in the same compartment as two underwear salesmen journeying via Halifax, Durham terminating in Edinburgh, across the highlands, to man of many disguises, Professor Jordan, with a joint of one of his fingers missing, at a big house Alt-na-Shellach to a wee Crofters cottage, strange hotel of the McGarrigles, to the theatre and The London Palladium where Mr. Memory is an act, and key to the plot of intrigue, murder, spies, and police. Exhausting!

Time 1935 – back three months in this country and bored our hero becomes ‘an innocent man mistakenly accused of a crime’ – Hannay must clear his name, find out what ’The 39 Steps are, and to stop the plot to steal British military secrets. Encountering three attractive ladies – one dies, one is married, the third thinks he is ‘horrid and beastly’ betrays him, discovers the truth and finally marries this tall, thirty-seven’ish, wavy haired, good looking, pencil moustached, pipe puffing, scotch drinking man!

The ingenious staging entailed a solid light backdrop – a multi-use opening door in easily moveable frame, a window again in frame with blind attached. A button backed centrally placed armchair with standard lamp with drinks table holding a decanter of scotch. Additions were a large open stepladder depicting the Forth Bridge, several brown rectangular boxes used to form train carriage seats, a motor car using a dining plate as a steering wheel, becoming  reception desk,  sheriff’s office, lectern at a political meeting  etc.  All timely placed as required. Use of hall front for theatre scenes with entrances through the auditorium all worked  well. The use of a frame for escape was excellent and a wonderful stile was created for a difficult escape being handcuffed! Great props prepared some from CODS, and Mary Parmee, Scenery items from David Pratt and Neil Vincer. – the aircraft chase scene with the crash, sheep holding up the chases, guns, truncheon, feather mops, dust sheets, sandwiches, glass of milk and  more. Effects created by Tim Nolan on lighting and Melody Lily Rose on sound desk were many – telephones, fog, standard lamp on and off, party noises through an open door, steam train sounds and more.  Actors changed persona and accents – heavies to Scots, master of questions Mr. Memory. Fast paced changes – sometimes just with  hats, wig or helmet.

The amusing script sped along with James Hanaway in perfect Oxford English voice, fast moving, dashing and athletic, Richard Hannay – with an eye for the ladies, dressed in brown tweed determined to clear his name. He is intrigued by Annabella Schmidt in glorious black evening gown who died knife so very well. Beth Fenton perfected her German accent and became a perky radio announcer as well as a great police officer. assisted by a  jacket on a wooden ‘T’ plus cap. Louise Franklin making her debut and gave us Margaret the believable shy, downtrodden crofter’s wife who helped Hannay escape and admired him. She was also Pamela, passenger, gave Hannay away to the law, eventually seeing she had got it wrong and, in the end, married him. Nicely done. Mark Perrian was a man many parts  - bad Prof, hotel owner, a heavy, police officer, vaudeville act, compare – I don’t know how he kept up – I loved his ‘grace’ scene, railway guard, and certainly John Laurie resemblance! From Tinkerbell to heavy, posh Mrs. Jordan to a wonderful Mr Memory and other roles, another first-class performance throughout from Sophie West. Much comedy coming through, with co-ordinated teamwork under Ben’s creative direction. Plenty of good costumes for wardrobe team to prepare – Scottish flavours, kilts, wigs and hats, shawls, and uniforms well put together.