Sorab Kaikobad and Charlie Cousins in The 39 Steps credit Cameron Grant

‘The 39 Steps’ // Hearth Theatre

‘The 39 Steps’ was addictive.

Stepping into The Chapel at Chapel Off Chapel on a hot 37-degree evening in March, the crowd is alive, sipping cool drinks and sharing a keen awareness that there is great entertainment to unfold. And what a spectacular it was!

The opening night of ‘The 39 Steps’ did not disappoint in any way.

A fast-paced comedic mystery play based on the 1915 novel by John Buchan and the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock movie of the same title, this award-winning whodunnit takes us on a particularly rickety journey when our leading man Richard Honey (Sorab Kaikobad) finds himself in quite the predicament after meeting a spy (Yvette Turner). There’s a murderous twist when she ends up dead in his lap, and suddenly his quest to prove his innocence begins. Along the way to discovering the
truth of her murder, the poor man encounters a whole chain of interesting characters (Jackson McGovern and Charlie Cousins) whilst he tries to avoid the police and targeted bullets. With mystery at every corner, the plot twists, fabulous one-liners, creative quick changes, and hilarious characters – it’s no wonder that ‘The 39 Steps’ won two Tony Awards and the Olivier Award for Best Comedy.

The talented cast of four, including director Charlie Cousins, takes on over 100 different characters ranging from paper boys to police sergeants, evil villains, obedient housewives, pilots, salesmen, politicians, farmers, bagpipe players and more! The acting is superb in all of its hilarity.

Sorab Kaikobad leads the way here portraying a range of emotions that audiences can easily follow as he is flung into complete chaos. Kaikobad is believable, funny and smart with his choice of actions, and delivers dialogue with enthusiasm.

Yvette Turner takes on board her characters with flair and vitality, bringing a gorgeous feminine spark to the stage with a sense of humour at every turn.

Jackson McGovern and Charlie Cousins have the perfect comedic timing. It’s a gift that keeps on giving! The pair act out multiple characters at once, swapping jackets, hats and wigs and changing stance and voice, which make for some of the highlights of the evening. The female characters McGovern embodies are hilarious, full bosom and blossoming! A stand out for Cousins includes the jealous farmer peaking through the window to watch his young wife’s interactions and the bagpipe-playing Scottish innkeeper.

There are lots and lots of words in this script and it’s incredibly clever. The team at Hearth Theatre delivers it with punch and spice, and no moment is lost in this action-packed comedy. With every minute being filled with intelligent momentum, Cousins has directed a charming thriller that is neatly packaged with a bow of perfection! Everything is precise, even when it’s made to look clumsy.

There’s such fabulous use of silhouettes and beautifully timed lighting, sound and music (lighting designed by Niklas Pajanti and sound design by Justin Gardam), which allows the audience to richly experience the on-stage plane crash, handcuff shuffling, rooftop train chase, wandering sheep, all that is the missing finger and that connection and pull of romance.

Eloise Kent’s set design displays an imaginative use of staging that looks simple but adds great detail to the storylines. Most set pieces are on wheels, allowing scenes to transition easily and for the actors to push things on and off or position them quickly. The idea and use of the rotating door are superb. Everything has been so well thought out and planned. This is also the case with Kent’s costume design, and even the placement of where to pick these up, swap them or put them down. The whole process fits together like a Rubix cube that is spinning like a disco ball!

The highlights of this production include the train ride where characters appear to be outside of moving carriages, the police dogs, the use of shadow lighting and puppetry, the handcuff and fence routine, and the fish dinner that’s still alive.

‘The 39 Steps’ is fun for all. It’s uplifting and enjoyable. It’s entertainment at its best.

‘The 39 Steps’ performs at Chapel Off Chapel until Sunday 17 March 2024. To book tickets or read more about the show, visit the official website.

Photography Cameron Grant. 

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