fourthwall contemporary theatre

I'm a huge fan of a rollicking adventure; especially when all the leg work is done by someone else and I can settle back in a seat at the theatre and demolish a box of maltesers. The rollicking adventure in question is Fouthwall's new production of Patrick Barlow's adaptation of the classic yarn, The 39 Steps - and it's rollicking with a capital R!

In very much a case of “... be careful what you wish for”, our hero Richard Hannay, played with visible tongue in cheek by the languid Peter Dann sets the scene lamenting his somewhat tedious lifestyle. Bored with his love life and circle of friends, his somewhat futile existence prompts him to comment “What does it matter what happens to anyone”. If ever there was a cue for a secret agent to enter stage left, then this is it. From that moment, Hannay is embroiled in a case of mistaken identity that leads him on a chase across the country encountering death defying situations, eccentric characters and an impenetrable Scottish mist.

The real genius of this play is the author’s decision to do the whole thing using just four actors, adapting John Buchan's original book into an intelligent comedy allowing Fourthwall to use the mayhem of quick-fire set, prop and costume changes to their complete advantage, producing a brilliant piece of theatre that draws the audience in with baited breath, eagerly waiting for the next hilariously frantic bit of story telling.

While Dann takes the lead as the pursued Hannay, the other three actors Pema Wainwright, Nic Early and Clive Lovatt create a multitude of knock-out characters with detailed nuances and voices so well defined that the whole ridiculously silly story becomes believable. Helped along by dozens of sound effects and period music providing an almost cinematic backdrop to the piece (which nicely pays homage to Hitchcock's 1935 film version of the story), there are times you will really imagine you’re on that train to the Highlands or lost in the mist chased by two maniacs in a airplane.

In the final scene, Hannay proposes that life always needs something to get the heart racing again. I’m not suggesting you become a fugitive, but do strongly suggest you get along to this production coming to a venue near you soon; it will leave you breathless.

Rick Barbery