I travelled to the little village of Bishopstoke, one mile outside Eastleigh near Southampton, not quite knowing what to expect. I have seen The 39 Steps performed on numerous occasions, and had also been a ‘visible’ scene shifter in a version that played at the Minack Theatre in Cornwall.
All four actors were very competent and knew exactly what was desired of them, changing from character to character at the drop of a hat (literally). The director also new the script very well in order to add in all the little bits of ‘visual’ which aren’t always clear within the printed script.
James Gould, was perfectly cast for the role of Richard Hannay with his British stiff-upper-lip look. He was the only one in the show that played just the one character throughout, and he played it brilliantly.
Rob Beadle and Pete Burton played the parts of Man 1 and Man 2 respectively, not much of a name for such characters, but very apt as they played the rest of the male (and female in places) cast, from newsboy to underwear salesmen, spies, policemen, police inspector, sheriff, villain, crofters, Scotsman, Scotswoman and villain’s wife. They both played each of the characters very differently, most time just by changing hat, body language and accent. They were both on the ball throughout.
Kate Robbins also played three different roles, Annabella, Margaret and Pamela, which she played with aplomb – it’s surprising what you can do with three different wigs and accents.
Barry Kitchen directed the whole show and was very astute on how it was played. He had some great ideas for the different scenes using only three wooden boxes, a backdrop, false window and doors and a few other props that were wheeled onto and off stage as the play unfolded. The scene on the train and Edinburgh Station was excellently performed, going at an excellent pace throughout whilst Beadle and Burton quickly swapped from character to character without leaving the stage, and in a couple of places, playing two characters at the same time.
The acting right through was superb and the timing impeccable. For a play like this, it is so easy to overdo things and all the humour consequently lost. However, the well-drilled cast worked fluidly together.
However, there were several moments in the show that pace was lost a little, namely the Scottish hotel scene - it just seemed to bog down a little bit, but it could just have been a first night glitch.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my evening trip to Bishopstoke and was well rewarded with the entertainment they provided.