The 39 Steps lead to
a fun-packed outing
The Centaur presents a stage adaptation of John Buchan’s popular adventure novel
By Byron Toben
Funny how things evolve.
In 1915, as World War I storm clouds gathered, Scots lawyer turned writer John Buchan wrote this prototype innocent “man on the run” novel.
In 1935, as clouds of World War II gathered, Alfred Hitchcock adapted it for film, adding female characters.
In the meantime, Buchan, who had gone into politics, was appointed Governor General of Canada from 1935 to 1940. He died in Montreal.
This story has legs. A radio version by Orson Wells, two other film versions, a stage concept for only four actors further adapted here by British playwright Patrick Barlow. The latter is now presented in a rollicking, fast moving version at the Centaur, directed by its new artistic director, Eda Holmes.
What a super cast Ms. Holmes has assembled here.
The protagonist, Richard Hannay, is wonderfully portrayed by Andrew Shaver. He encounters five women, all perfectly crafted by Amelia Sargisson. Trent Pardy and Lucinda Davis have their work cut out for them, zipping in and out of 15 other roles each.
Lots of physical comedy here, lots of word play on Scots or German accents… all coalesce into a memorable whole.
Lots of physical comedy here, lots of word play on Scots or German accents. A missing little finger, a moving train, an attack by an airplane, handcuffs, a milkman disguise, bumbling police, a music hall memory man, all coalesce into a memorable whole.
Wonderful support staff, particularly Set and Costume designer Michael Gianfrancesco and fight choreographer Anita Nittaly.
If you wonder what Hitchcock would make of all this, you can ask his wax figure in the lobby, borrowed from Musée Grévin, or at least pose with it for a selfie.
Harder to commune post mortem with Buchan, who wrote 27 other novels, 38 non fiction books and several biographies as well. A busy guy. I believe that several others of his works featured the same Richard Hannay.
While Hannay is not quite a James Bond, Bulldog Drummond or Sherlock Holmes, methinks there is sequel or series potential out there for some budding playwright, guaranteeing life long employment for Mr. Shaver. But no, he’s too versatile to be type cast.
The 39 Steps continues at the Centaur until December 10.
Images: Andrée Lanthier
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Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club.