Review: Steps are a stairway to comedy heaven

Left Charlotte Peters (Pamela) and  Richard Ede (Richard Hannay) in The 39 Steps, Photographer Dan Tsantilis.
Left Charlotte Peters (Pamela) and Richard Ede (Richard Hannay) in The 39 Steps, Photographer Dan Tsantilis.
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The 39 Steps at The Lyceum

LAUGH-A-MINUTE is a phrase batted around all too often, one which can very rarely be used in the literal sense.

The 39 Steps at Sheffield’s Lyceum, however, is an exception to the rule.

This show follows the story of Richard Hannay, a bachelor whose chance encounter with the mysterious Annabella Schmidt - who is then murdered in his flat - causes him to embark on a mission to protect national security. All the while he is pursued by police, accused of the girl’s murder.

All sounds very intriguing, but if you go to the theatre expecting a suspense-filled murder mystery chances are you will be disappointed. Parody is the name of the game in this spy spoof and the plot takes a backseat to the gags, delivered so thick and fast it’s enough to make an episode of The Comedians look long drawn-out.

Joky references to Alfred Hitchcock - director of the classic film version of John Buchan’s novel - come in abundance and physical comedy plays a huge part.

Richard Ede makes for a perfect tweed-clad cad as the central character, but it is Gary Mackay and Tony Bell who steal the show. Together they flit between playing spies, policemen, a couple living in the rural Highlands and Scotland’s answer to Basil and Sybil Fawlty.

It is so fast-paced I found myself willing the cast to take a breather and I imagine a dressing room filled with stacks of Pro-Plus. Comic timing is impeccable and with The 39 Steps this is a necessity, rather than an added bonus.

Set changes and costume switches are clunky - we are constantly reminded of the parodic nature of the production yet it manages to cling on to an underlying sense of intrigue.

To say the finale ties up loose ends might stretch the truth somewhat, it’s a haphazard knotting together, a child getting to grips with their shoelaces. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.