Local actors put a different spin on Broadway’s longest-running comedy show

Let’s do the math.

Take one actor playing over 20 different roles, four trunks that transform from chairs to trains to hotel desks, plus one nearly suicidal English gentleman and you get Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps.”

Giggles and high-pitched laughter were heard almost immediately during the opening night of the play on Jan. 26 at the Stage West Theatre in Calgary.

The show was created from the original spy novel by John Buchan, which served as the inspiration for Hitchcock’s famous film in 1935. The play was written by Patrick Barlow, based on the original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon, which is based on a two-actor play.

Calgary’s production features a cast of four playing over 150 characters in a fast-paced tale of international espionage.

Attendee Denise Bryan-Williams said, “It was hilarious. I have been to Stage West many times for openings but this one stands out the most. The quick character changes made by the same actor held me captivated.

“I felt like I was watching a 1940s movie, I didn’t even feel like I was watching a play.”Minimal props used to portray a car chase scene in “The 39 Steps”.
Photo courtesy of: Stage West Theatre

Dale Evanson, another attendee, said, “I thought the clever use of props and tricks was pretty impeccable. I haven’t seen a play like this before.”

Throughout the play, trunks and smoke were used to portray a busy train station and quick on-stage hat changes lent a hand to character changes.

Director Mark Bellamy said, “The production is very theatrical.”

“To ensure we are doing Hitchcock’s movie justice, we are acting out every scene from the film. And we are doing it with only four actors and very little set.”

Multiple hat tricks, back-to-back scenes and on-stage costume changes can be expected during the entire production.

Supporting actor Chris Hunt said he plays 25 different roles, among them, a Scottish man’s wife, a police officer and a train conductor. “It is just a lot of fun. Very entertaining to watch and it’s interesting for audiences to see how we change characters.” From left, actress Natascha Girgis who plays Hannay’s multiple love interests, actor John Ullyatt who plays the lead role of Richard Hannay.
Photo courtesy of: Stage West Theatre

Hunt said that while he has played multiple roles before, this production is the most he’s ever done. “With the help of a great sound and light designer we can sell it as best as we can.”

He explained that most of the cast had the opportunity to play the same characters last year at Vertigo Mystery Theatre. He also said that Bellamy was the artistic director then, which made it a lot easier to prepare this time around.

“The 39 Steps” encompasses all legendary scenes from the movie, including the chase of the Flying Scotsman and the escape on the Forth Bridge.

The play runs from Jan. 26 to April 1, 2012. More information can be found on Stage West Calgary’s website.

aip@cjournal.ca