By Joe Szekeres
Who doesn’t love a good suspense story especially if it has been influenced by the master himself, Alfred Hitchcock? Movie lovers remember such classic films like ‘Rear Window’, ‘The Birds’ and ‘Psycho’ that had us on the edge of our seats wondering what would happen next.
For its 61st season, The Scarborough Theatre Guild (STG) will stage ‘The 39 Steps’ by Patrick Barlow, “a ‘loose parody’ of the classic 1935 Hitchcockian film” according to STG director, Kevin Shaver, who is quite the film aficionado himself. One of Hitchcock’s favourite themes was the innocent man getting unintentionally entangled in some dilemma. This same theme is also found in ‘The 39 Steps’ and contains the elements of a good story in this film tradition – intrigue, romance and an innocent man on the run. The Guild’s production will remain true to the period and flavour of the 1940s.
I can recall a Durham Region amateur theatre company staging ‘The 39 Steps’ several years ago. It was my first time seeing the play and I remember how rapid the pace of that production was as there are only four actors who play over 150 roles. That alone was enough to intrigue me to see how it would be performed live. I wasn’t disappointed as so much was happening so quickly.
I often wonder if millennials would even have any interest in seeing a Hitchcockian suspense story today since there now appears to be instant gratification for all kinds of tastes. Mr. Shaver counters with an interesting comment about this style of film that is unmistakably deep rooted and enduring:
“The original ’39 Steps’ film provides the foundation of the play (along with several references to his other films), but the Theatre Guild’s structure and pace of the show is more like Hitchcock meets Monty Python with a twist of Mel Brooks,” he says.
How can anyone not like the quirkiness of Monty Python or the irreverent humour of Mel Brooks?
Today, it is unique marketing which helps to sell in our world of instant gratification. Alfred Hitchcock was the first film director to market himself cleverly along with his films. His own silhouetted profile is probably one of the most recognizable images in film history, ranking up there with Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp. Hitchcock was also known for making cameo appearances in his films. I asked Kevin if he would do the same during each performance:
“Anyone who knows me, and my sense of humour, may recognize a few signature moments or references. And as for a cameo, there wouldn’t be any suspense if I tell you,” he says.
Shaver avows if anything that audiences are in for a good laugh in seeing ‘The 39 Steps’:
“At this time when we are inundated with the craziness of an upcoming Canadian federal election, the shenanigans of US President Donald Trump, and sadness permeating our world, ‘The 39 Steps’ is a great escape to an afternoon or evening of entertainment where we don’t have to be concerned about anything nasty or negative,” he says.
And what of his production team and cast?
Shaver is proud to say that he is privileged to work a talented crew who have worked hard from the first day of auditions and rehearsals including Darlene Thomas as Producer with Teresa Bakker as Stage Manager.
Additionally, the cast is composed of experienced actors who can think fast on their feet and move quickly within the rapid-fire structure of the play. The actors have adapted quite well to the minimal staging of the production and have each contributed to their characters and scenes. They get the ‘joke’ of this playful homage and have been able to run with it. Cast members include Rob Magee as Richard Hannay, Lindsay Bryan as Annabelle, Pamela and Margaret, Tommy Boston and Paul Bryant as two Clowns.
Performance dates of ‘The 39 Steps’ include October 4-6 inclusive, October 10-13 inclusive and October 17-19 inclusive at the Scarborough Village Theatre, 3600 Kingston Road, Scarborough. To purchase tickets online and to learn more about the Scarborough Theatre Guild, visit the website.