The Thirty Nine Steps

Centrepoint, Palmerston North

10/09/2011 - 08/10/2011

Production Details

Adventurer Richard Hannay has just returned from Africa and is thoroughly bored with his London life – until a murder is committed in his flat, just days after the victim has warned him of an assassination plot that could bring Britain to the brink of war.

An obvious suspect for the police and an easy target for the killers, Hannay goes on the run in his native Scotland. He must use all his wits to stay one step ahead of the game – and warn the government before it is too late.  

The Thirty-Nine Steps is a quirky combination of an exaggerated spy thriller with a comic-book approach. The four talented actors play 33 roles in 100 madcap minutes. With playful props and quick-fire costume changes, this show will prove to be thrilling and laugh-out-loud funny. 

Andrew Laing, a familiar face from TV’s Outrageous Fortune, Underbelly and Spartacus plays Richard Hannay in this exciting and spoofy adaption. Ricky Dey, who recently appeared at Centrepoint in Flipside, Renee Sheridan  (Penalties, Pints and Pirouettes), and Patrick Davies join him in the Thirty-Nine Steps cast. 

Director Conrad Newport was last at Centrepoint in 2004 acting in A Doll’s House and has also performed here in Netballers and Noises Off.   Conrad has directed many successful shows at every professional theatre in the country and all the Arts Festivals. Actor/writer and comedian Ross Gumbley has a place in the hearts of Palmerstonians for his iconic plays co-written with former Centrepoint artistic director Alison Quigan, including Shop Till You Drop and Five Go Barmy in Palmy. 

The Thirty-Nine Steps
Centrepoint Theatre, Palmerston North

Dates 10 September – 8 October
Show Times:
Wednesday 6.30pm, Thursday – Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 5pm.  
$37 Adults, $25 Seniors, $25 Under 30s, $25 Community Service Card Holders, $15 Students, $65 Dinner & Show.
Special Performances:
$15 Tuesday – Tuesday 13th September, 6.30pm.
Bookings for $15 Tuesday open at 9am Monday 12th September 
Phone 06 354 5740, online at, email, visit 280 Church Street. 

Andrew Laing
Renée Sheridan
Patrick Davies
Ricky Dey

Set Design: Daniel Williams
Costume Design:  Ian Harman
Lighting Design: Natala Gwiazdzinski

Lighting Rig: Image Group
Operator: John Lepper
Stage Manager:  Eddie Fraser
Production Manager:  Brendan van den Berg
Props and Sound:  Brendan van den Berg 

Set Construction: Harvey Taylor  

Principal Co-sponsors Property Brokers & Fitzherbert Rowe Lawyers 
Show Sponsored by AuditLink and Naylor Lawrence & Associates 


Clever Dicks in melodramatic derring-do

Review by Richard Mays 12th Sep 2011

Clever Dicks these theatre folk. Programming a show to have traction and audience appeal while the Rugby World Cup dominates most facets of life on this corner of the planet, must’ve caused a few nightmares at Centrepoint. Fortunately, they’ve hit on a dream prescription – a stage adaption of Edwardian novelist John Buchan’s ‘steam-punk’ spy thriller, The 39 Steps.

Now this is not the The 39 Steps – 2007 Olivier Award-winning farce, toast of the West End and based on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film by Patrick Barlow. This is a New Zealand edition, with contemporary reference to ‘Phonganooey’ and all. It is the same spoof concept though – four actors taking multiple roles in a pell-mell style production – but this version is reinterpreted directly from Buchan’s novel by Court Theatre’s Ross Gumbley. Gumbley will be remembered fondly for his pioneering plays written with Alison Guigan at Centrepoint in the ’90s. 

’Tis once upon an early 1914, and the redoubtable Richard Hannay, suave-ish self-funded gentleman just back in Blighty from ‘the Dark Continent’, is so bored with life in London that even he must resort to the theatre for distraction.

The game’s afoot then with an absolutely ripping yarn of mesmerism, murder, mystery, mayhem, mistrust, masquerade, motor-cars and monocularism, managed with much melodrama, merriment and mirth. Hannay the hero unwittingly finds himself embroiled in a dastardly plot to compromise British battle-plans should the world ever, perish the thought, stumble into war. Cue dramatic cliché music crescendo! 

Close your eyes during this, and you’re listening to an old-style over-wrought radio play – but do keep them open because while indulging in ‘theatre of the mind’ you’ll miss the timing, the slapstick, the visual puns and sight gags, the film noir lighting and effects, the costumed style, and a set constructed from suitcases that is probably as clever as the script.

The luggage wall hides windows and doors, a train compartment, a hotel reception, occasional furniture, a bed, and has any number of other natty nooks, while onstage, the protagonists pursue one another by dibbling around on valise vehicles. 

The play even contains an echo of 1995’s Gumbley/Quigan play Biggles On Top – even if forward firing machine-gun totin’ biplanes didn’t happen until 1915. 

It’s certainly an admirable cast. The straight man throughout, Andrew Laing plays a perturbed but doggedly determined and dashing Hannay, while Renee Sheridan, Patrick Davies and Ricky Dey inhabit 30-odd other quirky and quickly-costumed characters around him.  

Davies is allowed to deliberately upstage as Paddock, Hannay’s gimpy one-armed valet, and turns in a couple of well-honed tartan-clad red-headed caricatures of the Scottish persuasion. Excelling as the femme fatale, Sheridan also makes a cracker street-urchin paper-seller, while Dey has the poise and panache to pull off a gallery of accomplished cameos and accents. 

A little more pace in the wordy opening scenes wouldn’t go amiss, but this amusing bags-and-all production is as diverting and sparkling a piece of entertainment away from the all-pervasive rampancy of rugger, as anyone could possibly hope to enjoy. 
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


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Thriller comedy balance enjoyably achieved

Review by John C Ross 12th Sep 2011

It’s mid-1914, with war seeming increasingly likely – but will Britain be absolutely dragged ‘into the abyss’? Will the gallant Richard Hannay and his ally the elegant Mrs Urquhart thwart a fiendishly ingenious conspiracy devised by some dreaded Huns, to bring that about? You might well ask.

As the writer’s programme note acknowledges, this is a thriller turned ‘comedic.’ It’s also strongly theatrical. Entering the auditorium, we are faced with, on an initially empty stage, a massive upstage wall made up of suitcases, chests, and other luggage, end-on, much of which turns out to be not what it seemed.

The manipulations of bits of Daniel Williams’ ingeniously designed set provide a vital constituent of the action as Hannay moves from a London flat, theatre, and streets, by train to the Heelands of Scartland, making his way across a moor to a castle, a hotel, and so forth, finally hustling back to London, and the final confrontation at Gravesend, in the snow. The suitcase motif extends to representations of cars, and a jigger.  

One actor plays Hannay, but the other three are people of many strongly-differentiated parts, costumes and wigs. Working out the logistics of these role-changes must have called upon the exercise of great ingenuity by the writer, the director Conrad Newport, and the costume designer Ian Harman. That the action flows apparently effortlessly is highly creditable to them, as well as to the versatility of the actors. The pace is widely varied yet never entirely lost. 

Hannay is by no means James Bond, yet Andrew Laing often manages to make him look like a precursor of Sean Connery’s Bond, though without Bond’s insouciant sangfroid; with, instead, often enough, a paranoically desperate manner (he doubtless knows that he doesn’t have a stunt double). And his amorous exploits with Mrs Urquhart don’t extend beyond a few good pashes and cuddles. (But thereafter? Good luck to him!) Rather, he is a pre-World War One Pommie gentleman, freshly back in London from some kind of adventuring in Africa, plucky, resourceful, and despite his paranoia and stress not deterred from intrepidly pressing onward. Laing sustains this role convincingly, and effectively, and also the action, since he seems to be onstage almost throughout. 

Renée Sheridan especially plays Mrs Urquhart, a young-ish wealthy widow, with aplomb and stylishness, yet also a dowdy London theatre-goer who has a fixation with arses, and a near-incomprehensible Scots railway-line fixer, Angus Junior. And who else? 

Patrick Davies plays so many parts it would be absurd to list them, but particularly entertaining is his playing of Haddock, Hannay’s one-armed man-servant, a bit eccentric, set in his ways, a tad slow but not dumb, likewise of a Scottish hotel porter, who is seriously gruff and slow. Ricky Day also handles many roles, but his sinister and formidable "One-Eyed Man" is especially memorable. 

Striking a balance between making a thriller gripping enough to be exciting, and treating it comedically, is quite a challenge, yet it is here enjoyably achieved. 
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


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