Lucy Richards-Smyrk reviews UCD Dramsoc’s return to the theatre for another year.
This version of The 39 Steps is a play by Patrick Barlow, adapted from both the novel by John Buchan and the 1935 film by Alfred Hitchcock.
Morgan Ward takes on a challenging piece as her directorial debut in Dramsoc, assistant directed by cast member Izabel Colton, whose previous experience with Dramsoc involved writing last year's Fresher’s Co-Op, Everyone is Lying. The cast consisted of Izabel Colton, Grace O’Neill, Chase Goldberg Friedman and Dylan O’Toole.
The plot unravels through a fast-paced narrative that sees Richard Hannay’s (Colton) life turned upside down and which can, strangely, only be redeemed by putting on a Dramsoc production. Hannay meets a cunning spy, Annabella Schmidt (O’Neill) who is then murdered. Soon, a mysterious organisation called ‘The 39 Steps’ is hot on Hannay’s trail in a nationwide manhunt! This play combines all the classical Hollywood flare of a classic whodunnit with metatheatrical elements, highlighting the mystery tropes with parody, so we have breaking the fourth wall, prolonged deaths and a giant map with little purpose.
This play combines all the classical Hollywood flare of a classic whodunnit with metatheatrical elements, highlighting the mystery tropes with parody
The cast enthusiastically make all the scene changes themselves, running or at times heaving set pieces in every direction possible. Huge acknowledgement to the stamina of Clown 1 (Goldberg Friedman) and Clown 2 (O’Toole) who brilliantly take on multiple characters through quick changes and impressive accent work. They keep the show going with energy and charisma.
The set is minimal, acting as a flexible playing field with the only fixed piece being a small platform upstage right with two chairs signifying a box in the theatre which serves to open and close the performance. The rest of the stage changed from train carriage to hotel room to Hannay’s office using four wooden chairs and two benches. There was a projector hanging upstage centre for the entirety of the performance which, due to its size, seemed distracting at first but was occasionally used to emphasise comedic moments referencing other classic Alfred Hitchcock movies of the 1930’s such as Pyscho’s Bates Motel and The Birds violent, well err, birds.
It might’ve been enriching to see this department pushed further but for the level of action onstage I’m surprised the actors' shirts stayed intact
A production highlight was the wonderfully staged train carriage scene where Friedman and O’Toole complete a lightning round of quick changes from paperboy, to constable, to driver, to commercial travellers. Near the end Colton, along with the two clowns, engage in a chase scene jumping out of the carriage and running along the bridge. This was all well done through physicality and sound design.
Props to the costume manager Maliya Tadjine whose costumes hinted at the traditional British fashion of the 1930’s, with solid beige trench coats, floral patterns, ankle length hemline dresses and top hats. It might’ve been enriching to see this department pushed further but for the level of action onstage I’m surprised the actors' shirts stayed intact.
With the chaos that ensues (ensuring the cast take at least 39,000 steps) you can’t blame them for almost breaking out in laughter multiple times. We had handcuffs breaking and off-timed reactions, as well as the pleasant, short appearance of the production’s stage manager off stage waiting with nerves and anticipation.)
The audience clearly enjoyed the performance laughing throughout and staying constantly engaged at the energy emanating from the cast with never a flat moment. I don’t believe I will ever react to thunder strikes the same again without “The 39 Steps” going off in my head.
The play is on in the 7pm slot at UCD Dramsoc Theatre from Monday the 14th to Friday the 18th November.