The 39 Steps is a laugh a minute at the Birmingham Rep

The classic John Buchan novel that became a classic Hitchcock film is also a play, or maybe that should be amended to a farce or slapstick comedy. The 39 Steps opened at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre last night, and had the audience crying with laughter. Using a brilliant ensemble cast of just 4, and with hilarious one-liners and physical comedy to rival the silent movie greats Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin, The 39 Nine Steps is the most fun you can have in less than 2 hours.


The Hitchcock version of the book is a taught thriller filled with tension and menace, but the play is a totally different proposition, played with its tongue firmly in cheek. Richard Hannay is a typical 1930s English gent, a little down on his luck and a but aimless in the idea of what to do with his life. A chance visit to the London Palladium sees him meet a mysterious woman, and when she is later murdered in his home, Richard becomes the only person who can save Britain from the work of a malevolent spy organisation known only as ‘The 39 Steps’. If this sounds all very sinister, the truth is actually anarchic craziness that has the audience splitting its sides with laughter.


As the hero Richard Hannay, Richard Ede is great fun. Dashing and witty, he has a real talent for physical comedy, particularly when faced with having a dead body sprawled across him(his escape is hysterically funny). He is well matched by Olivia Greene who plays all the female roles, showing off a great range of accents that range from a Scottish Lilt to heavy Russian. And then we have Andrew Hodges and Rob Witcomb, who complete the cast and are referred to in the programme as Man 2 and Man 1. This is understandable as they play so many roles, but human (policeman, hotel owners, farmers, salesmen, milkman, spies, etc, etc) and also inanimate (literally every obstacle on route when Hannay and Pamela escape across the Scottish moors.) Superbly funny, showing immense versatility, Hodges and Witcomb hold the play together beautifully.

39 1

39 2

There are other moments to enjoy in this play. It is fun picking out all the references to Hitchcock, from his cameo when Hannay escapes from the train, to moments that echo North by Northwest and Pyscho. The set is sparse, and is often set up in front of your eyes, with doors that keep moving and a car that is quite literally constructed at the point when it is mentioned.

The 39 Steps is great fun. Quite simply, an unmissable hoot.

The 39 Steps Birmingham Repertory Theatre 1st March to 5th March 2016.

Click here for ticket information.

Must watch TV – Sienna Miller as ‘The Girl’

‘The Girl’, if you were wondering, was Tippi Hedren, a beautiful blonde actress from the early 1960s whose career was launched, and then ruined, by the legendary film director Alfred Hitchcock. He gave her the lead role in his classic movie ‘The Birds’, a film where she showed a real talent for conveying the icy sensuality of the ice-cream blonde that Hitchcock was so impressed with, the stereotypical Hitchcock Blonde. She also had a stunning role as the beautiful kleptomaniac Marnie, opposite a young Sean Connery, again excelling in this difficult role. But Tippi’s career was stalled when she spurned the advances of the portly, strange director, she was tied to a contract and Hitchcock refused to let her work for other directors and studios, effectively ending her career just as it was taking off.

And now a new TV film is retelling the fascinating story of the Film legend and his muse, with Toby Jones taking the part of Hitchcock, and fashion plate Sienna Miller playing Tippi. Called ‘The Girl’ the programme is being broadcast on BBC 2 on Boxing Day, and is my TV highlight of Christmas. Stills from the film show that Sienna looks uncannily like Tippi Hedren, and the early 1960s style elegant costumes are just wonderful, making this a treat for anyone with an interest in fashion and Hollywood style.

Get ‘The Girl’ look

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