If you’re looking to get out of the pandemic doldrums, look no further than the new Chemainus Theater Festival production The 39 steps.
While the theater has worked hard to provide entertainment during the pandemic, with small cabaret dinner shows, The 39 steps marks their first full show, kicking off the 2022 season.
Notably, the play is very loosely based on the Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name. I say vaguely because Hitchcock is not known for his comedies, and this version of The 39 steps is definitely one. It was adapted by Patrick Barlow to turn the thriller into a spectacle that will keep you laughing at regular intervals.
While Hitchcock will leave you on the edge of your seat to see which shoe drops next, this production will leave you anticipating which crazy characters will grace the stage next, as our hero, bored slacker Richard Hannay (Aidan deSalaiz), does his way through a spy plot and Scotland – the jury is still out on which is more puzzling.
There isn’t a dull moment as the production quickly sets the scene with the murder of a beautiful Russian spy in Hannay’s London apartment, a murder for which Hannay quickly becomes wanted. Before her death, the spy manages to detail her mission enough to inspire Hannay to take up his cause, as he is hunted by both the authorities and a shadowy enemy.
There’s plenty of fun physical comedy in this show, with plenty of memorable moments, including hilarious antics with a streetlight and hidden villains; a chase inside and outside a train; and figures escaping through a variety of windows.
The show’s performances are key, with each member of the small cast displaying excellent comedic timing. deSalaiz is joined by Alexandra Brynn, who plays the three major female roles in the series with remarkable aplomb, deftly differentiating them. deSalaiz himself is very likable, able to convey the right mix of vulnerability and common sense, so that the audience is fully on board as he navigates an increasingly unfortunate series of events.
All the other roles, of which there are many, are played by Caitlin Driscoll and Felix LeBlanc in an incredible display of quick-change art (you’ll wonder how they do it). There comes a time when two characters played by the same actor even have a conversation with each other. It all adds to the sense of chaos and momentum that keeps the show moving and moving at a rapid pace. Stephen Thakkar rounds out the cast as an understudy.
Cleverly adding to the fun, a flattering radio presenter and ongoing Easter eggs for Hitchcock fans, slyly nodding to most of his famous films, from from north to northwestat vertigo and rear window.
I also liked that while a show like this doesn’t require a particularly involved plot to work, the final twist here is actually quite clever and satisfying, reminiscent of an earlier sequence on the show that felt like a throwaway At first glance.
This show is just the refreshing palate cleanser we all need right now to chase away the blues.
It runs until May 22.
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