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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Monday, September 17, 2012

The 39 Steps, theatre review

Published in the Guardian

Pitlochry Festival Theatre, four stars

SINCE director Richard Baron staged The 39 Steps at Perth Theatre in 1998, the adaptation has been on a journey as long and involved as that of Richard Hannay when he stumbles across an international spy conspiracy in John Buchan's thriller. Baron took a script by Nobby Dimon and Simon Corbie, which had been on a small-scale tour of village halls, and gave it a gag-laden production that got much mileage out of the ludicrous impossibility of staging Hannay's epic journey across Britain with only four actors.

It was this tongue-in-cheek adaptation, rooted in Hitchcock's movie as much as the book, that the National Theatre of Brent's Patrick Barlow used as the basis for his award-winning adaptation, which, a couple of directors later, is still running in the West End. Now things have come full circle at Pitlochry, where Baron and his original designer, Ken Harrison, return to the show in the Barlow version.

Dougal Lee plays the part of the unflappable Hannay, who flees to Scotland after the glamorous spy he has befriended is murdered in his London apartment. The joke is twofold: we laugh at theatre's inability to create realistic impressions of a steam train, a Highland landscape and the Forth bridge; and we laugh, too, at the playfulness of a production that persists in the attempt regardless.

It means we're watching two stories at once. There is Buchan's ripping yarn, which somehow survives the irreverent treatment, and there is the story of four actors earnestly trying to tell the tale. With Kathryn Ritchie playing some (but not all) of the female roles, and George Docherty and David Delve running through their repertoire of comedy double-acts, it's a witty, high-energy show that suits the breezy holiday spirit of Pitlochry down to the ground.

© Mark Fisher, 2012
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