The Thirty Nine Steps

Court One, Christchurch

16/06/2007 - 21/07/2007

Production Details

Adapted by Ross Gumbley from the novel by John Buchan
Directed by Ross Gumbley

Danger! Intrigue! Scotland! When Richard Hannay returns to London to find himself wanted for a murder he didn’t commit, he must go to all lengths to evade arrest and clear his name. His escape to Scotland only leads to greater peril, and his discovery of a plot to assassinate the Greek Premier gives further impetus to his quest to discover the meaning of The Thirty-Nine Steps.

The Court opens it’s 2007/08 TelstraClear Season with a pulse-pounding interpretation of John Buchan’s popular novel The Thirty-Nine Steps, adapted for the stage by the theatre’s Artistic Director, Ross Gumbley.

Penned in 1915, Buchan’s gripping tale of international espionage and conspiracy, laced with thrilling chases and daring escapes has captured imaginations for decades. It first hit the silver screen in 1935 courtesy of Hitchcock and has since been recreated for film in 1959 and 1978.

Whilst The Court’s designers and technicians perfecting the myriad of theatrical effects employed to stage this epic escapade, four of New Zealand’s finest actors are working with director Ross Gumbley to create the dozens of colourful characters that populate the pages of Buchan’s original story.

“We are enjoying every challenge. If you’ve read the book you’ll know there’s no shortage of incredible material from which to shape this play. The actors and I are limited only by our imaginations”, says Gumbley.

The Thirty-Nine Steps sees Stephen Papps (Spike Milligan in The Court’s 2006 production of YING TONG) and Tom Trevella team up with Geoffrey Heath and Claire Dougan (hot on the heels of their roles in the sell-out season of THE COUNTRY WIFE) in a giddying, side-splitting theatrical adventure which simply must be seen to be believed.

Opening 16 June 2007 for a strictly limited season.

Geoffrey Heath
Steven Papps
Claire Dougan
Thom Trevella

Set: Tony Geddes
Costumes: Pamela Jones
Lighting design: Geoff Nunn
Sound design: Loki Stanley 

Theatre ,

1 hr 25 mins

A good hot toddy of a production

Review by Lindsay Clark 17th Jun 2007

How often adaptations of novels for film or stage trigger impassioned bouts of analysis and almost always negative conclusions. In this case the relative purposes of John Buchan’s classic thriller in the climate of Britain, 1915, and Ross Gumbley’s intrepid stage version for a totally different audience in 2007 are so far apart that there is really no point in the debate.

It is hard to beat a good theatre frolic on a winter night and the sound of shared mirth as challenging adventures materialise and are triumphantly dealt with right there, a few steps away. They are adventures presented at a reckless pace, with little of the cat and mouse trepidation layered into the novel, but to see this new work as a Reader’s Digest version  with live pictures, would be to underestimate the theatrical flair used to solve the challenges of a couple of hours of narration, not  to mention the huge entertainment of  its inventive staging.

Gumbley settles for direct storytelling from Richard Hannay, Buchan’s hero, with frequent cinematic fades into action sequences borne along by stirringly patriotic music and often embellished by wonderful models. A trio of actors plays a dazzling array of minor roles and the whole experience is delivered with a playfulness that is partly tongue in cheek deflation of the genre, and partly pure inventive fun. A long way perhaps from the thrillingly sinister novel but totally appropriate for a contemporary romp.

In the fun and fury of the quest to decode a message of vital importance for national security, characters materialise and disappear in an instant. They need appropriate positions for spying and overlooking  as well as devices to convey the sound and sight of  items such as a train or a bi-plane. Set and model designer, Tony Geddes, and sound designer, Loki Stanley, provided a vital component for the success of this production.

The real engagement or otherwise of the audience of course, relies on the actors. As a model of poker faced resourcefulness Stephen Papps allows the narration to carry the day. A staunchly neutral and impassive observer of his own adventure, he contrasts nicely with the rest of the ensemble – Tom Trevella, Geoffrey Heath and Claire Dougan-  whose role changes invariably involve another crisis or solution, always handled with assurance and energy.

There is ‘more to things than you imagine,’ says Hannay in the closing moments of the play, a pronouncement which could stand well enough as a comment on this piece. It certainly brings a  fresh perspective to Buchan’s ripping yarn. It is a good hot toddy of a production, unashamedly finding a new reading for a new world.


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