Over the top Hitchcock parody The 39 Steps is full of laughs

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The 39 Steps | Circle Bright Productions | Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre | March 1 – 10, 2019

It’s 1935 in an old cinema, and the opening credits of Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps roll. Just as we get into the first scene, there’s a technical issue and the film stops. A few enthusiastic audience members decide to do the show live instead. After all, says one woman, they’ve seen it 50 times.

The audience members are among us in the theatre and make their way to the stage to put on their own version of the classic film that is a loving parody with everything full of exaggerated slapstick.

Canadian Richard Hannay (Jay Hindle) meets secret agent Annabella Schmidt (Ella Simon) at a London theatre where a fight breaks out. They run away to Hannay’s apartment. As she tells him the incredible tale that she’s a spy in pursuit of two assassins (David Marr and Kazz Leskard) while also trying to figure out the story of “The 39 Steps,” Hannay must decide whether he trusts her.

He doesn’t have long to think because he wakes up to find Schmidt has been killed. On the run from the police and Schmidt’s assassins, Hannay tries to prove his innocence and solve the mystery of “The 39 Steps.”

From the accents to the use of found objects as props, everything is over the top. At first, this felt like it was all a bit too much, but by the end the self-aware farce feels more appropriate.

The standout in this talented cast of four who play over 100 comedic characters was by far David Marr as he took on many hilarious roles including an innkeeper with a ridiculous Scottish accent. Another highlight was the clever choreography used for quick costume and disguise changes that also resulted in rapid-fire character switching.  

All the props used in the show are meant to be made from objects that could be found in a cinema, and the most inventive example is sheep that were made out of bags of popcorn. They got many laughs, and were another reminder that we were watching cinema-goers act out the film and add their own twist to it.

In order to make the production more accessible to different audiences in Vancouver, it included Chinese subtitles. This was a wonderful way to ensure that more people would be able to experience live theatre in the city and I hope Circle Bright continues this in future productions. Poking fun at all the conventions of a spy thriller and Hitchcock’s trademark style, The 39 Steps is a lot of fun — especially for Hitchcock aficionados, but suitable for anyone looking for a laugh.

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