2016 - 2017 Season
Theatre Sarnia’s Handbill
The 39 Steps
Theatre Sarnia’s Production of The 39 Steps: To Alfred With Love
Sunday April 2, 2017
by Brian Hay
The first thing that’s striking about this play is how closely it adheres to the original film by Alfred Hitchcock. The second is that the multitude of liberties it takes with it. The third is that everything is woven directly off content from the original. The brilliance, and subtlety of it — and there is a great deal in the adaptation first written by Simon Corbie then redone by Patrick Barlow lies in every facet of the original script being parodied in a way that’s completely shameless, yet done with reverence for the original. The task facing Director Ian Alexander and his crew was to bring it to the stage with the integrity the playwrights had taken great care to preserve intact. Being willing to break a few rules didn’t hurt.
A huge amount of the responsibility fell to Catherine Souliere. As Lighting Designer and Stage Manager she had to coordinate things so that lights directed audience eyes toward the focal point of the action and keep bodies, props and wardrobe changes moving with pinpoint accuracy. With a team that included Assistant Stage Managers Claire Ross and Natalie Normand, Properties Personnel Mary Jo Webber and Rachelle Lacroix, Wardrobe Designer Arlene Duckert and her assistants Megan Willick, Anne Stoesser and Marian Blonde she succeeded brilliantly. Control of the array of Sound Effects used was in the hands of the production’s Director, Ian Alexander, and he kept those working seamlessly. Crew member Shane Davis was on hand to bring some added interactivity to the show by breaking a few rules. He did it perfectly, and with a straight face to boot.
The design of the set was the work of Cian Poore and Brian Austin Jr. A single unit that remained stationary framed the action on the stage while an array of props moved in tandem with the activity of the performers. This is where the level of coordination involved really shone. The pace of the action ran the gamut from the most gentle of lulls — an obvious nod to Hitchcock — to extended periods where they were blistering and frantic. Many changes were done in full view of the audience but with the eyes directed away from them by ingenious use of lighting placement and activity from another spot on the stage. Pulling it off successfully was a feat that allowed the performers to shine.
The only one of the four players who had just a single role was Darryl Heater. His portrayal of the beleaguered Richard Hannay captured the character’s sense of pristine formality and stiff upper lip flawlessly. His timing was stellar while his gift for physical comedy lent added expression at the moments most key to the man and the production as a whole. His leading protagonist, Bethany Tiegs (who played too many roles to even begin naming them) worked beautifully as his opposite and romantic interest. The chemistry between them was excellent, especially in their handling of sexual innuendo — they literally had steam coming off the stage on several occasions. Cian Poore and Sarah Matuzic played everyone else. No exaggeration there. Their work has to be seen to be believed. There’s an abundance of belly-laughs that result from their doings (or misdoings as the case may be).
The production and the play involved are outrageously madcap but where everything succeeds most poignantly is in preserving the signature touch that was so unique to Alfred Hitchcock. His sense of the macabre was always tempered with gentle humour and a touch that had an elfin sensibility about it, basically, murder with pixie dust. It’s was unique when he was alive and remains so to this day. I watched the original film and a few of his others from the same period before writing this and have to say the best thing a person can do after enjoying this show is to go to Hitchcock’s work for a visit. It will be a visit well worth doing and a reminder of how singular his work was.
That was probably the intent of the playwrights who put this together, and if so, they succeeded marvellously. Theatre Sarnia’s troupe certainly achieved that.
This performance took place at the Imperial Theatre in Sarnia Ontario on Saturday April 1, 2017. The article was written to convey impressions of what it was like being in the house to receive one surprise after another.