As one might expect to be physically tired after climbing 39 steps (depending on fitness levels!), one can definitely expect to be mentally tired after watching The 39 Steps. This is due to the overwhelming physicality the show demands, the actors continuously rotating between characters with, at times, breakneck speed. It is marvelous to watch, awe-inspiring and fantastically absurd.
The show is comprised of just four actors who, between them, portray a great many more roles than their individual person might suggest. Switching from policeman to village man to train controller to passenger, within seconds of each transition, is both amusing and astonishing, all the more when different accents and costumes are used!
The actors are, in short, phenomenal. They create entire sets with just a few props and even portray the presence of weather and dimension. The story is based around the character of Hannay (the only actor to maintain the same character throughout) who, upon meeting a woman in a bar one night, is framed for her murder and ends up on the run from an international spy organization.
An interesting topic that came to mind while watching the production was the demand for suspension of disbelief by the audience. This is most certainly required, forcing the audience to accept such notions as extreme farcical situations and obvious character changes. I believe it absolutely succeeds on this account as accepting the moment presented to you on stage is the audience’s role is it not?
I found there were certain similarities in that sense to another recent Arts Club Production, Boeing-Boeing, in which the audience must acknowledge the absurdity of the character’s situations, yet appreciates equally the timing, choreography, and rehearsal involved in the effort. The demanding exertion the actors clearly exhibit at every moment is welcomed and embraced.
From the audience’s closing reactions to both productions, it seems we definitely do not mind a little suspension of disbelief, a near tearing of the fourth wall. Perhaps it is sometimes even more enjoyable and escape-inducing to be led on a completely absurd and unlikely journey through the story and with the actors, actively consenting to the make-believe aspect. After all, what is theatre without make-believe?
The Arts Club production, currently on tour, is an obvious choice for a touring production. With a small cast, simple set and classic story it continues its run throughout the lower mainland until March 16th.
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