The 39 Steps - Metro full cast 1

Two balconies, a street lamp, a circular staircase: Vancouver’s Metro Theatre contains a minimalist set for Patrick Barlow’s The 39 Steps, opening Metro Theatre’s 2014/2015 season. Things don’t remain empty for long though. The show opens with handsome Canadian expat Richard Hannay (Tom Parkinson) seated in his West End apartment, recalling his non-eventful life.

Moments later, he’s in London’s theater district, attending a vaudeville-style show featuring Mr. Memory, a man who retains and retells numerous facts with amazing accuracy. During that performance, a stylishly-dressed woman with a German accent joins Hannay in his theater box. A quick shot is fired, and the thickly-accented woman pleads to go home with Hannay.

Back at the apartment, we learn that Annabella Schimidt (Jenny McLaren) is the only one who can stop secret spy organization The 39 Steps. Bedtime arrives; he tucks into a sofa chair, offering her his bed. Later that night, she reappears in his living room stabbed with a knife in the back, taking her final breaths. Before she does however, she makes another mention of the organization, hands Hannay a map of Scotland, and presses him to stop the organization before they leave the country.

Richard winds up being the prime suspect in the murder, and takes the evening as a sign to continue where Annabella left off, fleeing to Scotland in search of one professor Jordan. Towards the end of the first act, Jordan kills him—or does he? You’ll have to see the show to find out his fate.

The 39 Steps - Metro - Man 1 & 2
[Trevor Roberts as Man 1; and David Wallace as Man 2]

Quick set changes performed by the cast and crew make for a fast-paced show, often with characters swapping roles right on stage: over 150 are revealed during the show’s two-hour (including one intermission) run time!

It’s worth pointing out that this play only uses four characters, all hard-working and notable. Richard Hannay is the only one of the four who plays a singular role. Trevor Roberts, David Wallace, and Jenny McLaren are off and running from the moment the show begins, changing up roles at hyper speed, making this play entertaining to watch. There’s also cool shadow puppetry, an on-stage plane crash, trains, cars, a missing finger, and romance to be experienced.

The 39 Steps - Metro 2
[Trevor Roberts, Jenny McLaren, Tom Parkinson, David Wallace]

Mention must also be made of Set Designer/Lighting Designer Les Erskine’s fine work, as well as Sound Designers Mike Mackenzie and Don Briard, who bring high-quality technical elements to the Metro stage.

The play may begin and end in Hannay’s apartment, but by the end of the show, irredeemable, unreformable Hannay is a changed man—he’s found love.

While the audience was very responsive to the crazy antics on stage, we found it at times excessive. The play is described as having a Monty Pythonesque quality to it, and that’s an accurate description. Oftentimes, Monty Python films can take a joke and exaggerate it to the point of absurdity. If you enjoy this particular style of humour, we’d highly recommend The 39 Steps.

The 39 Steps was written by John Buchan (a former Governor General of Canada) and was published in 1915. 20 years later, Alfred Hitchcock directed the film of the same name. The original concept and production of a four-actor version of The 39 Steps was written by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon. English actor, comedian, and playwright Patrick Barlow rewrote their adaptation in 2005.

Directed by Mike Mackenzie, The 39 Steps continues at the Metro Theatre through October 11. Photos by Dominique Labrosse.

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