The 39 Steps – New Vic Theatre

The 39 Steps is a world class, fast paced hilarious farce that could entertain the most straight faced theatre critic. This non-stop comedy directed by Theresea Heskins (adapted by Patrick Barlow from an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon) will delight New Vic audiences (Newcastle-Under-Lyme, Staffordshire) this month on it’s limited run. This renowned producing theatre has once again struck gold.

Richard Hannay is a fine English chap – but he doesn’t have much going on. That is, until he meets a mysterious woman who invites herself back to his apartment and ends up dead in the middle of the night. Forced to go on the run, Hannay strives to clear his name of murder, and avoid being apprehended by the many suspicious characters that chase him along the way. Dodging bullets, police officers and suspicious men standing under lampposts along on the way, Hannay soon realises he might have bitten off more than he can chew…

Yet again, Heskins has created something truly special, retaining and enhancing her signature style. Exceptional direction, use of props and staging allow this group of four fantastic actors to shine beyond what you would think is possible. They are provided with countless opportunities for physical comedy and classy stagecraft moments of various types such as ‘door openings’ and ‘money exchanging’.

Four actors take on over 120 characters between them moving seamlessly between characters, accents and sometimes even genders! They burst onto stage in an all-dancing, high octane style that doesn’t falter throughout the rest of the show. The scene transitions are beautifully choreographed – movement direction is by Beverley Norris-Edmunds – and there is absolutely no stage time left unfilled.

Isaac Stanmore (Peter Pan in Scarlet, Robin Hood & Marian) takes on the main role of the dashing Richard Hannay. Like the rest of the cast Stanmore does not stop in this role, his pace does not waver, and his delivery of the role is second to none. He has some hilarious moments all the way through, but notable highlights include his interactions with Annabella Schmidt at the beginning of Act One. As the only actor that plays one character Stanmore is the anchor role, he captures the audiences hearts from the beginning, and from then we are with him every step of the way on his journey.

Rebecca Brewer (Votes for Women, Playhouse Creatures) fills the shoes of Annabella Schmidt, Pamela and Margaret. Her characterisation of these three female roles is strong, there is no portrayal of a weak female character from Brewer. The variation on these roles is stark, and the quality of the different accents a real testament to her acting ability.

Gareth Cassidy (Astley’s Astounding Adventures and Treasure Island) portrays a number of outrageous characters and one of many highlights is his portrayal of “Mr Memory”. His physical characterisation, using his entire body as well as some hilarious facial expressions make for a real treat to watch throughout.

New Vic favourite Michael Hugo (Astley’s Astounding Adventures, Around The World In 80 Days) needs no introduction. The auditorium sits in the palm of his hand – his very presence has the expecting audience anticipating his next hilarious move – and he does not disappoint.

Hugo was a joy to watch, bringing to life numerous characters in front of our eyes and creating fantastic moments shared between his characters and the audience. He might only play a character for 30 seconds, but has a unique way of making that character stand out and leaving a lasting impression whether that be of a train driver, an old Scotsman or a house maid.

Interestingly both Gareth Cassidy and Michael Hugo’s characters are listed as ‘Clown’ in the programme. They play the vast majority characters between them, often in quick succession with super-fast costume and accent changes and creating some incredible side-splitting moments. These two actors provide an absolute master class in clowning.

New Vic shows have this extraordinary ability to make every line, every laugh and every moment shared equally between actors and audience, as if we are all in on a secret that only we knew. From sharing props with audience members, sitting amongst the audience and using clever moments that link to other shows – what is created is truly magical and memorable.

Scandalously, this show only plays the New Vic until Saturday 30th March. This production must tour. It sits high with the very best that UK Theatre has to offer right now.

To buy tickets whilst you still can – visit


About Author /

Kath is an actor, singer and writer with a passion for theatre. She has been reviewing for At The Theatre since 2014. Kath has a Masters in Performance at Liverpool Hope University and is Creative Engagement Worker for B arts, a participatory arts organisation.

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