For Queensbury Theatre's latest comic showcase, playwright Patrick Barlow puts players through a veritable stage boot camp filled with murder, mystery and non-stop action.
Bored bachelor Richard Hannay attends the theater one night and witnesses the murder of the star performer, Mr. Memory, meets and then takes home a seductive woman who claims to be a spy. Overnight, she is murdered too. Now, Hannay is on the run with the police and a secret organization called “The 39 Steps” in hot pursuit. “The stakes are pretty high throughout the story, but so are the yucks,” says The 39 Steps director George Brock.
Barlow adapted the play from a 1915 novel and 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film, both titled The 39 Steps. The novel was the very first spy thriller, spawning the character James Bond. Barlow added humor to the otherwise serious story by having a cast of four perform 150 characters. In one sequence, says Brock, two actors portray 10 characters using gestures, accents and hats.
Sets and costumes are also reduced in Barlow’s script, which Brock describes as meta-theatrical. The dramatic technique lets the audience in on the joke by breaking the fourth wall and avoiding realism. As we talk, The 39 Steps prop mistress shows Brock handlebars, which stand in as an entire bicycle.
With meta-theatricality in mind, the Queensbury Theatre also constructed a false proscenium aimed to narrow the performance space. By doing so, the actors’ entrances and exits are more obvious. A side effect is condensing the action and propelling the story forward. “If you are not running at 110 miles per hour in this show, you can very easily lose the thread of the story.”
Brock, along with the cast and crew, brings on the comedy by exploiting a variety of comedic genres and techniques, including vaudeville and British Musical Hall influences, which appear in set, costumes, and overall performance.
“If everything is clicking on all cylinders, it’s a pretty virtuosic piece of theater when you see it.”
Jan 7–22. $36–48. 12777 Queensbury Lane. 713-467-4497. queensburytheatre.org