Five years since I last came to see Winton Players perform at Petersfield's Festival Hall, I am now back for Patrick Barlow’s The 39 Steps; a very funny, fast-moving comedy from the book of the same name by John Buchan and later made into a memorable film by Alfred Hitchcock.
The play is cleverly written for just four actors, three male and one female, plus a group of stage hands who are deliberately seen altering the set etc. One actor plays Richard Hannay, with the young female actor taking on the parts of Annabella Schmidt, Pamela and Margaret. Much of the comedy comes from the other two actors as they constantly change and perform a multitude of roles throughout, often changing mid-scene whilst onstage, including the other women’s parts. I was therefore a little disappointed that Winton Players gave all of these peripheral characters to a group of ten actors and actresses. However, the audience love every minute of it, so what do I know!
Simon Stanley is one of the best Hannay’s I have ever seen - which is at least half a dozen or more. He has the character spot-on, with a great gift for comedy. Issy Arnett is also very well cast in the role of Pamela; her movements and voice suiting the character perfectly.
Joff Lacey and Mark Spiller work brilliantly together, with action, timing and diction, including the extremely fast-paced railway carriage scene as salesmen, guard, paperboy etc. They also provide a highlight as the pursuing inspector and policeman throughout the rest of the play.
A mention must also go to Colin Stoneley for his part of Mr Memory. He has a massive piece of mind-bending technical spiel during his demise, which must really take some learning. Truly wonderful and well deserving of the round of applause as he finally passes his last breath.
Other cast members play their roles beautifully, with their entrances, exits and odd lines right on cue every time, although the odd voice needs raising a little which is rather hard to hear despite having some very important pieces of dialogue to tell the audience.
Director, Laura Sheppard, has done a splendid job with the whole shebang with her comic touches bordering on genius at times as the cast have the whole audience in fits of laughter throughout.
Props, set, etc. run like clockwork thanks to the whole team pulling together. I particularly like the use of a section just front of stage where all the sound effects are played live by whoever is in the pit at the time – it works so well. The lighting design by Giles and Paula Collard is superb in order for the plot to perambulate on at high speed.
Winton Players’ next production is Paul Allen’s Brassed Off in October.