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Spy thriller THE 39 STEPS tops HVT season

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A perfect end to a perfect summer! From August 13 to 24,Hudson Village Theatre (HVT) presents the Theatre Lac Brome production of the Olivier and Tony Award-winning global hit comedy, The 39 Steps, adapted by Patrick Barlowfrom the novel by John Buchan and directed by Theatre Lac Brome’s Artistic Director,Nicholas Pynes.

Mix a Hitchcock masterpiece with a juicy spy novel, add a dash of Monty Python and you have the stage adaptation of The 39 Steps, a fast-paced whodunit with the dashing Richard Hannay on the lam for the suspected stabbing of a spy, a woman he just met! With his face plastered everywhere and the coppers in hot pursuit, Hannay attempts to clear his name and carry out the victim’s mission to stop the export of top secret information. His quest takes him from big city London to the moors and villages of Scotland in search of a nefarious spy ring and its villainous leader, with one outrageous and spine-tingling twist after another.

The 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film of The 39 Steps starred Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll and was loosely based on the John Buchan adventure written twenty years earlier. The film script was originally written by Charles Bennett, who prepared the initial treatment in close collaboration with Hitchcock and Ian Hay then wrote dialogue. Of the four major film versions of the novel, Hitchcock’s is the most acclaimed, with the British Film Institute ranking it the fourth best British film of the 20th century in 1999. Five years later, Total Film named it the 21stgreatest British movie of all time, and in 2011 named it the second greatest Best Book to Movie Adaptation.

The film’s plot, on which the stage script is based, departs substantially from Buchan’s novel, with scenes such as in the music hall and on the Forth Bridge not present in the book. Hitchcock also introduced two major female characters: Annabella the spy and Pamela, Hannay’s reluctant companion. In Hitchcock’s version, The 39 Steps refers to the clandestine band of spies whereas in the book and the other film versions, it refers to physical steps. By having Annabella tell Hannay outright that she is travelling to meet a man in Scotland, producing a map with the town circled, Hitchcock deftly avoided the plot hole in Buchan’s book where Hannay just happens to walk into the one house where the spy ringleader lives.

What makes the stage version so entertaining is that the 1935 film adventure is re-enacted with only four actors. One actor plays the hero, Richard Hannay, an actress plays the three women with whom he has romantic entanglements, and two other actors, or ‘clowns’, play everyone else: heroes, villains, men, women, children … even the occasional inanimate object. The film’s serious spy story is played mainly for laughs with a script full of puns alluding to some of Hitchcock’s films, such as Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, Psycho,Vertigo and North by Northwest. The original concept and production of a four-actor version of the story was by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon and Patrick Barlow rewrote this adaptation in 2005.

Stage and screen actor, Martin Sims, makes his HVT debut as that of suspected murderer on the run, Richard Hannay. Mary Harvey, last seen in Hudson in Educating Rita, plays three different women including one handcuffed to Hannay though she’s convinced of his guilt.Mike Hughes, who recently brought down the house at this year’s Montreal Fringe Festival in the two-hander, Bandolier of Dreams, plays one of the two ‘clowns’ portraying policemen, innkeepers, gangsters, and more. Relative newcomer who is quickly distinguishing himself in the local theatre community, Davide Chiazzese, is the other ‘clown’ slipping seamlessly from one character to another. Luciana Burcheri assists Mr. Pynes in direction with lighting design by Michel Charbonneau, set and costumes by Evita Karasek, and stage management is by Seamus Ryan.

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